When you order that juicy burger, cheesy fries and soft drink, you are not really thinking about whether it can affect your mental health, are you? You are possibly calculating the calories and thinking about how much more time you need to spend at the gym the following day. Most of us don't really equate the food we eat with our mood or mental health.
When we consume food that is highly processed - tinned, canned or food rich in fats and refined sugars - it leaves us feeling lethargic and heavy. Yes, these foods do give us immediate gratification and it does satisfy our cravings. Therefore, it's no surprise that we often turn to them as our “comfort food”. When we have food high in sugar, fat or have a glass of soft drink, it gives us a quick spike in dopamine levels, making us feel good for a few minutes. However, we need to be aware that they negatively affect our health and also our mental functioning.
Choosing the right diet is not just for improving your physical health and increasing your lifespan, but also to improve your mental health.
“You are what you eat!” We have heard this before. So let's try and understand this statement. Everything we eat is broken down by our bodies and it is used to fuel, repair and re-energise us. It is from our food that we receive all the minerals, vitamins and nutrients which are the building blocks of our entire physiology. So in this way, we quite literally are made up of all the things we eat.
Our gut has more than 100 million nerve cells; it's practically a brain in itself, and that's why we call our gut a small brain or the second brain. The nervous receptors in the stomach connect to the brain which forms a unique neural network that allows communication between the stomach and the brain within seconds. So everything that happens in our gut directly impacts the mind and our mood.
The good bacteria in our gut produce hundreds of neurochemicals and hormones which are used by the brain to regulate physiological and mental processes. These neurotransmitters also aid in cognitive processes like learning, memory and mood regulation. A significant part of the serotonin in your body is produced by the bacteria in the gut. This neurotransmitter helps regulate your mood, as it is often called the body's natural "feel-good" chemical. Our gut also produces 50% of the dopamine in the body, GABA and norepinephrine. All of which play a key role in the mood, mental state and cognitive functions like concentration, motivation and dealing with anxiety.
Patients suffering from depression and mood disorders are prescribed drugs that boost their serotonin levels and increase these neurotransmitters in the body.
There is no one specific food that we can have, we need to have a variety of nutritious food for our optimal mental health.
We can start by being more mindful of what we normally eat, and how we feel after we have eaten.
Pay attention to how eating different food makes you feel not just in the moment, but also the next day. Checking in with the body is essential. Focus on cutting out the processed foods and food rich in sugar from the diet. Replace it with fruits, vegetables, sprouts, nuts and seeds. Our food must be wholesome and water-rich. These small changes can bring a big difference to our mental well-being.
Eating healthy does not have to be complicated. Food is meant to make us feel good and fueled. Therefore, having nourishing food is a priority.
Taking ownership of the food you eat is a great way to invest in yourself and understanding what's on your plate is the first step towards a good quality of life.
Sign up for a free consultation with our Mind Health Coach to further understand the topic and take quick tips to change your life positively