“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” – Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
At some point in your life, you must have come across the saying “You are what you eat”. This does not just talk in terms of the physical aspect, but also the mental aspect. You are probably aware that the food you eat affects your body. Having a nutritious diet helps you keep healthy body weight, a healthy heart and it also helps reduce your risk of developing some chronic diseases. But it does not just stop there. Research has found out that the food we take also impacts our mood and our mental health. This is sometimes known as a “food-body” connection.
Eating healthy food directly affects the relationship between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). This GI tract is home to billions of bacteria. These bacteria influence the production of neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, that carry messages from the gut to the brain.
Therefore, when you eat healthy food, the growth of “good” bacteria is promoted and hence, it positively affects the production of neurotransmitters. When the neurotransmitter production is in good shape, your brain receives positive messages which reflects on your mood. On the other hand, when you junk food, it leads to inflammation and also feed the “bad” bacteria. This disrupts the production of neurotransmitters.
It is not just about mood and emotions. A healthy diet can also improve psychological disorders. Studies have found that a healthy diet can help with reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Research has also shown that unhealthy diets are linked to the increase in risk of dementia or stroke.
There are certain nutrients that are associated with emotional and mental well being. These nutrients include omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, vitamin D, magnesium, B vitamins, and tryptophan. These are all found in foods that are part of a healthy diet. Let’s look at the foods that you should intake in order to have a healthy diet:
- Whole foods: Go for fresh food or “real” food; food that is minimally processed. This is because some studies have shown that preservatives, food colorings, and other additives may cause or worsen hyperactivity and depression.
- Fiber: They help you to absorb glucose and sugar, which helps you to avoid sugar rushes and crashes. They include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
- Magnesium: This is very important because a deficit in magnesium may hurt the bacteria in your gut. This might lead to depression and symptoms of anxiety. You can find magnesium in almonds, dark chocolate, cashews, bananas, and beans.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps in the production of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which is responsible for mood regulation. We usually get it from sunlight but another good source that we can find vitamin D in is mushrooms.
- Proteins and fats: Your brain needs amino acids to regulate thoughts and feelings. Since you find amino acids in proteins, consumption of the same is important for a healthy diet. Protein is found in lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, cheese, and soy products. A lot of people are under the impression that fatty food is bad for us. However, that is not always the case. Fatty acids, like omega-3 and omega-6, are essential for our brains to function well. Healthy fats can be found in nuts, seeds, oily fish, poultry, avocados, dairy products and eggs.
- The Mediterranean Diet: The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It is considered a beneficial diet for overall health and brain health. While there is no single definition of the Mediterranean diet, it is typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nut and seeds, and olive oil. It also limits high-calorie, low-nutrient foods.
Did you know that hydration and nutrition go hand in hand? Dehydration anxiety is a fear where one thinks that they are consuming an inadequate amount of water. In this process, some people have excess water, more than their body requires, which leads to illnesses. They fear to go anywhere without carrying their own water bottle. This form of anxiety is closely linked to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and orthorexia (an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy).
Signs of dehydration anxiety include:
- monitoring your daily intake to the litre
- feeling a sense of dread when you don’t have your water bottle
- worrying about where to get water from, e.g. when shopping or traveling
- experiencing panic attacks when water isn’t immediately available
The standard requirement of water needed per day is six to eight glasses (approximately two litres). However, the specific amount of hydration needed varies from person to person. Therefore, it is important for you to tune into your whole lifestyle when considering how much water is sufficient hydration for you. Nutritional therapist, Karen Alexander, says that it’s not only the water you drink, but your diet, gender, age, exercise, and lifestyle are also contributing factors to your water needs.
After learning this piece of information, I tried it on myself. I tried my best to avoid junk food. My diet consisted of all the nutrients I mentioned above. I did notice a difference in my mood. My stomach felt a lot lighter which had a positive impact on my mood.
You become more self-aware and you have a little more power to regulate your mood accordingly. Notice what kind of food is having what kind of impact on your mood; not just in the moment but till the next day. Being mindful of the foods that are entering your body is very helpful and can positively impact your life.