Good food – good mood: Is it possible to influence mental health with the right diet? You may have noticed that your mood has a significant impact on your food choices. In stressful situations, we may find ourselves craving unhealthy snacks more often. But have you ever thought about the fact that food can also influence your mental health?
We know that a healthy and balanced diet is beneficial for our physical well-being. We try to influence our body shape and performance with diets. But what about influencing our mental health? Is it possible to support our mental health with the right food?
What foods can influence mood?
Research in the field of “nutritional psychiatry” is attracting more and more attention. Rightly so, as it is beginning to uncover how our dietary habits can influence our mood and thus counteract mental illness. A typical Western diet, known to be low in fibre and high in fat and sugar from processed foods, has been linked to a greater likelihood of mental health symptoms and disorders (1). In contrast, the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in plant fibre, has been observed to improve and reduce the risk of several health conditions, including depression and anxiety (1-3).
Recent research has also found that people who adhere best to the Mediterranean diet over a long period of time have a lower risk of developing depression than people who adhere less (4).
What exactly is the Mediterranean diet?
This diet, is based on the traditional eating habits of people living around the Mediterranean Sea and is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, fish, as well as olive oil and red wine (enjoyed in moderation!). This dietary style is generally rich in beneficial fats, polyphenols and fibre, with more protein coming from vegetables than animals. (5,9)
Diversity instead of superfoods
The long list of whole foods typically consumed in a Mediterranean diet shows that there is no single “superfood” that can improve our well-being. Rather, there are a number of foods that can be beneficial to us.
It’s the same with your gut microbiome health, by the way. The more diverse your microbiome, the healthier you are. Find out now how diverse is your microbiome.
This is because foods are complex and many different nutrients are contained in a single food. The same message is clear in relation to our gut microbiome. No, there is no single “superfood” that feeds all beneficial bacteria and therefore us. Eating a high-fibre, plant-based diet with as much variety as possible contributes to a diverse supply of prebiotics that nourish our friendly gut bacteria (6,7). When the beneficial bacteria in our gut are well nourished, they also help us achieve greater well-being and quality of life.
Gut microbiome and mood – what’s the correlation?
Our gut microbiome is home to vast amounts of bacteria and other microorganisms and is also known as our second brain. Within this bacterial community live species that break down dietary fibre and can produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as butyrate and propionate. These helpful substances play different roles in our health and well-being, potentially affecting how well we feel. (5)
Happy gut – happy body & mind
You’ve probably heard of the happiness hormone serotonin. It is considered a mood stabiliser and helps us to be happier, less stressed and anxious. The good news is that butyrate and propionate, produced in the gut microbiome, can stimulate our gut cells to produce serotonin (8). Almost 90% of serotonin is produced in our gut. So if we consume adequate amounts of fibre in our diet, we can theoretically optimise the production of SCFAs and ultimately our serotonin levels and therefore our mental well-being.
The right diet for the gut-brain connection
Although studies show that diet can play an important role in our mental health, it should not replace treatment prescribed by qualified and experienced mental health professionals. However, studies have shown that following a diet rich in plants over a long period of time has the greatest positive impact on our gut-brain axis connection.
Recipes to boost your gut-brain axis
To inspire you on what you can eat to keep your gut-brain happy, next week you’ll get a great recipe. If you haven’t signed up to our newsletter yet, you should do so now here. That way you won’t miss any of our articles and you’ll always be up to date.
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