Food is the fuel that moves our bodies forward from one day to the next.
But it also affects how we think and how we react to life’s challenges. What we eat shapes both our physical appearance and our moods.
We in essence have two brains, one of which is in our heads and the other which is in our guts.
They both evolved from the same tissue when we were fetuses, and are connected via the vagus nerve running from the brain stem to the abdomen.
This nerve is the primary electrical circuit for the gut to transmit information to the brain, so it is very important to maintain optimal gut health with good nutrition and probiotics.
Nourishing the gut with vitamins, minerals, water, and antioxidants is essential to maintaining an upbeat, positive mood.
Some Mental Health Facts
1 in 5 American adults experienced a mental health issue
1 in 10 young people experienced a period of major depression
1 in 25 Americans lived with a serious mental illness
Connections between food and our mood
Researchers have found that an unhealthy diet over time is a risk factor for depression. They defined an unhealthy diet as one high in processed foods and sugar.
There is also a documented connection between high sugar intake and food addiction, because sugar and fats cause the same pleasure center in the brain to fire that addictive drugs do.
When we are under stress, we want sugar for an energy surge. That energy surge leads to an energy crash, which mimics depression and causes us to want more sugar in an ever-lower cycle until we hit bottom in true depression.
In a study done in New Zealand in 2014, researchers documents an important link between food and mood. They found that those who are on a high-quality diet had better mental health than these who are on a poor quality diet.
In fact we have a post that asks whether the brain can actually be altered by drugs called nootropics, and found out that the active ingredients are food based and the main chemical compounds are standard in most of the things we eat on a daily basis!
By now you may have noticed that certain foods can put you in a particular mood. The reason for this is that what you eat greatly impacts the balance of some of the important neurotransmitters in your brain.
Serotonin and dopamine play an important role in both mood and appetite control, and their being out of balance directly affects the way you feel.
How the foods we eat affect serotonin levels
Low serotonin in your brain is associated with anger and depression.
Thus, when your nutrition places serotonin in jeopardy, you are more likely to angry more quickly over things that would ordinarily not bother you. You are also more likely to become hurt and depressed over things people say that you would ordinarily just brush off.
Without being consciously aware of it, when we are low on serotonin and want to maintain our emotional balance, we seek out self-medicating foods such as carbohydrates filled with starch.
Crackers, cake, and bread give our brain the raw materials it requires for it to synthesize and release serotonin.
What we often fail to realize is that foods that are antioxidant and vitamin rich such as fresh vegetables and fruits increase the levels of tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin.
Foods that tend to trigger the release of endorphins, the feel-good chemicals our bodies produce to cope with stress and pain, are chocolate, ice cream, and other sweet creamy foods such as flan.
These are often called comfort foods or mood elevators and can become addictive if we allow them to.
How gluten can possibly affect your mood
Many people are now finding they have a gluten sensitivity.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and some other grains. It can negatively affect your mood, inviting depression in and even more serious mental health issues like schizophrenia.
In fact certain foods have been shown to have powerful effects in many different aspects of your body, even helping with cancer treatment.
Wheat in particular inhibits serotonin production. The greatest concentration of serotonin is, interestingly enough, found in the gut, not the brain.
Research has implicated wheat in a host of mental health issues due to its opioid peptides that are disruptive in the brain and the neurotoxic activity of the wheat germ lectin found in it.
Mood elevators offered by Dr. Mercola include:
- Dark chocolate, what great news! This is due to chocolate’s production of a neurotransmitter that temporarily blocks depression and pain, and to chemicals that provide the feel-good status one gets from eating dark chocolate.
- Protein from high-quality sources stabilizes blood sugar.
- Bananas are filled with dopamine, a mood booster, magnesium and B Vitamins, especially B6, which soothes the nervous system.
- Coffee’s effect on several neurotransmitter related to mood control give you an overall sense of well-being. It also improves brain health, and may reverse depression.
- Turmeric or curcumin has properties that are neuroprotective and may contribute to an elevated mood.
- Purple berries are filled with anthocyanins, antioxidants that help the brain make dopamine: a necessary chemical in coordination, mood, and memory.
- Omega-3 animal fats have been shown to reduce anxiety and act as antidepressants.
We definitely are controlled by what we eat. If we want to feel balances and healthy, we need to be mindful of what we eat.
Food and Mood: How Diet Affects Depression