The links between food and our physical health are already well known, but what about foods that boost our mental health?
For years, research on healthy eating has focused primarily on physical health and the relationship between diet, weight, and chronic disease. However, the emerging field of nutrition in psychiatry is looking at how food affects our feelings.
“A lot of people think that food depends on their waistline, but these foods also affect our mental health.”
– Tell Uma Naidoo, a Harvard psychiatrist, director of nutrition and lifestyle psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital. “It’s a missing part of the research so far.”
There is a strong relationship between the stomach and the brain that begins in the womb. The gut and brain come from the same cell in the fetus, Naidoo said. One key point in the connection between the brain and the gut is the vagus nerve, a bidirectional chemical messaging system that explains why stress causes anxiety in the mind and butterflies in the stomach. However, food can also affect the state of the microbiome, and some types of gut microbes have been linked to higher rates of depression. Even the brain’s mood-regulating chemical, serotonin, is tightly bound to the gut: only 5% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the brain, and the rest is produced, stored, and functioned in the gut.
“We have to eat, that is our basic need,” said Naidoo, who is also a professional chef and coach at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.
“And food is a very important tool for our mental health.”
Debunk the myth
Oftentimes, people try to influence their mood by eating comfort foods. The problem, experts say, is that while these foods usually deliver a tempting combination of fat, sugar, salt, and carbs, making them so tasty, we feel bad about them.
Tracy Man, who directs the Health and Nutrition Laboratory at the University of Minnesota, has conducted a number of studies to determine if the right food improves mood. Participants were asked, “What foods make you feel better if you are in a bad mood?”
Before each test, participants watched excerpts from films known to provoke anger, hostility, fear, anxiety and sadness.
After the movie, viewers completed a “negative mood” questionnaire to indicate how they were feeling. Then they were given a generous serving of their favorite favorite food; A food that is loved but not considered a proper food; “Neutral” dish (a slice of oatmeal and honey); Or they received no food at all. Everyone had three minutes to eat their food alone or sit in silence. After the break, the mood questionnaire was filled out again.
The fact that one of the participants did not eat comfort food, neutral food, or anything made a difference in mood swings. The experiment revealed that the passage of time was the most important factor in changing the participants’ moods.
Although Mann’s research suggests that traditional comfort foods have no measurable effect on mood, more and more research is proving that improving diet quality can have a significant impact on mental health.
A study analyzing 16 studies found that dietary interventions significantly reduced symptoms of depression.
A four-year study of more than 10,000 university students in Spain found that people who followed the Mediterranean diet were less likely to develop depression. Australian researchers examined the food diaries of 12,385 adults randomly selected from an ongoing government survey and found that higher fruit and vegetable consumption predicted increased happiness, life satisfaction and well-being. At the same time, we still have a lot to learn about foods and amounts that can improve mental health.
“Our brains have evolved to be willing to eat just about anything to survive, but instead we should strive for nutrition to improve overall mental health.”
Said Drew Ramsay, MD, a psychiatrist at Columbia University in New York.
Let’s try something new
The list below is based on suggestions from Naidoo and Ramsey.
Leafy vegetables: Ramsay says that leafy greens are the foundation of a brain-healthy diet because they’re cheap, versatile, and rich in nutrients and calories. Kale is a favorite, but spinach, watercress, lettuce, beets, and chard are also great sources of fiber, folate, and vitamins C and A.
Colorful fruits and vegetables: The more colorful our food, the better it serves the brain. Studies have shown that compounds found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as red peppers, berries, broccoli and eggplant can also affect inflammation, memory, sleep and mood.
Reddish-purple foods are “strong players” in this category.
But let’s not forget the avocado, which is high in healthy fats, which boost phytonutrient absorption from other vegetables.
Seafood: Sardines, oysters, mussels, wild salmon, and cod are essential sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids for brain health. Seafood is also a good source of vitamin B12, selenium, iron, zinc and protein. If you don’t feel like eating fish, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and seafood are also good sources of omega-3s.
Nuts, beans and seeds: Let’s try to eat about 60 to 120 grams of beans, nuts, and seeds per day, Ramsay said. Nuts and seeds, including cashews, almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds are great snacks, but they can also be easily added to other foods like salads.
Black and red beans, lentils, and legumes can also be used in soups, salads, stews, or even as a side dish.
Spices and herbs: According to some studies, certain spices can provide the right balance of gut microbes, reduce inflammation, and even improve memory. Naidoo especially loves turmeric. Studies show that the active ingredient, curcumin, can have a beneficial effect on attention and general cognition. “Turmeric can be very potent over time,” he said. “Let’s try adding it to salad dressings or using it to season stir-fried vegetables. Adding a pinch of black pepper makes 2,000% curcumin within our brains and bodies.”
Fermented foodsFermented foods are made by combining milk, vegetables, or other raw ingredients with microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria. According to a recent study, six servings of fermented food per day can reduce inflammation and improve the diversity of the gut microbiome.
Fermented foods include yogurt. sauerkraut; kefir kombucha, a fermented drink made from tea; Kimchi, a traditional Korean appetizer made with fermented cabbage and radish.
dark chocolate: According to a large-scale government survey of nearly 14,000 adults, people who regularly eat dark chocolate have a 70% lower risk of developing depressive symptoms. The same effect was not seen in those who ate a lot of milk chocolate. Dark chocolate contains large amounts of flavonols, including epicatechin, but the popular milk chocolate and chocolate chips are highly processed so that not a lot of epicatechin remains in them.
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