The Connection Between Diet And Mental Health: Part 1

Next time you down a caffeinated drink, eat a sugary snack or feast on some fast food, consider the effect this is having on your mental health.

While there is no visible connection between what you eat and how you feel, don’t be fooled – everything you put in your mouth has an impact on the way your brain functions and your capacity to regulate mood.

Certain foods like the ones mentioned above have a negative effect on mental health by encouraging inflammation, depleting the body of essential nutrients or stimulating the release of certain hormones.

Others have a positive mood-boosting effect and can help to improve emotional regulation, sleeping patterns and more.

 

Taking A Closer Look At The Causes

Evidence suggests that mood disorders such as depression and anxiety develop as the result of a combination of several biochemical, environmental and lifestyle factors, rather than one in isolation.

While genetics have been shown to influence risk of depression by up to 30-40%, other factors such as nutritional status, psychosocial factors and lifestyle choices account for the remaining 60-70% susceptibility, showing that genetics alone are not usually a life-sentence for misery!

Let’s have a look at the main physiological causes of mood disorders, and how dietary choices can help or hinder your happiness.

 

Inflammation 

Chronic inflammation is showing itself to be a root cause of almost all chronic disease states, and mood disorders are no exception.

Although it is a fairly new theory for mood disorders, researchers believe that excess inflammatory mediators in the brain disturb nerve cell structure and function, as well as interfering with neurotransmitter balance.

Chronic inflammation also increases oxidative stress levels in the body, a finding common in depressed individuals.

Diet Dos

Include more anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats found in raw nuts, seeds and wild fish in your daily diet to regulate inflammatory processes and reduce oxidative stress.

Fish oil supplements can help to further reduce inflammation, as can antioxidant compounds found in herbs and spices such as ginger and turmeric.

Drink enough water – water helps your cells to absorb and utilise nutrients, it is also essential for flushing toxins and cellular waste from the body which may contribute to inflammation.

Diet Don’ts¬†

Cut out pro-inflammatory foods such as sugary and processed foods, refined grains and grain-based foods like breads, cakes, pastas, chips, etc. from your diet.

These foods not only contribute to the development of mood disorders, but exacerbate all other inflammatory diseases and contribute to weight gain.

Deep fried foods are one of the most damaging foods to health as they contain dangerous tran fats, so skip the take aways too!

 

Hormonal Imbalance

Physical and psychological stress, common causes of mood disorders, elevate cortisol (stress hormone) levels as the body springs into fight-or-flight mode.

Raised cortisol levels are often found in individuals with mood disorders and are linked with further hormonal disruptions via the HPA axis, potentially affecting sex hormone balance and thyroid health too.

Over time, individuals are likely to become extremely fatigued as cortisol levels are depleted due to ongoing stress, thereby worsening overall health and perpetuating mood disorders.

Find out more about the effects of stress on health, or get your cortisol levels tested here.

Diet Dos

Nourish your adrenal glands (responsible for cortisol production) with small, regular meals including good quality proteins, magnesium-rich leafy greens, raw nuts and seeds, raw cacao or dark chocolate, and legumes.

Vitamin C found in fresh, brightly coloured fruits and veg such as capsicum, citrus fruits, berries and green veggies also boosts adrenal function, as do B-Complex vitamins. These are best supplemented for long-term or severe stress states.

Diet Don’ts

Stay away from stimulants – caffeine is your worst enemy when it comes to adrenal health. It causes further increases in cortisol making you feel more awake and alert in the short term, followed by crashes in energy not long after.

Nicotine, alcohol, recreational drugs, sugary foods and drinks and energy drinks all fit into the same category, causing more severe fatigue in the long term.

 

Dysglycaemia 

Dysglycaemia (poor blood sugar control) is common in people with metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Evidence now suggests that it is also linked with depressive symptoms and may play a role in the development of a range of mood disorders.

Symptoms of dysglycaemia include waking up tired, feeling fatigued most of the day, low mood, sugar cravings during the day and after meals.

Chromium and alpha-lipoic acid along with certain medicinal herbs in GlucoFactors Forte can help keep blood sugar levels in check, along with a healthy diet.

Diet Dos 

Eat smaller meals more regularly to help balance blood sugar levels. Make sure you include good quality protein sources in all meals, such as organic/grass-fed meats, eggs, raw nuts and seeds and legumes.

Include some healthy fats in your diet from extra virgin olive oil, avocados, wild fish, nuts and seeds to improve blood sugar regulation along with some low GI carbohydrates to avoid blood sugar spikes.

Try roasted sweet potato (yummy with cinnamon and coconut oil), fresh fruits- especially berries, and small amounts of unprocessed whole grains with your protein, such as rolled oats or quinoa if you are craving carbs.

Diet Don’ts¬†

Often we reach for sugary foods for comfort when feeling down. Unfortunately this does more harm than good, so start cutting out refined carbohydrates from your diet, especially processed white goods like bread, pasta, pastries, cakes, flour.

Avoiding soft drinks, bottled juices, lollies and confectionary is essential- if you’re desperate for something sweet, have a small amount of unsweetened dried fruit or dark chocolate instead.

If you need to sweeten your foods and drinks, use natural sugar-free sweeteners such as stevia, or low GI sweeteners such as coconut sugar and raw honey.

 

Click here for The Connection Between Diet And Mental Health: Part 2

 

Further Reading: