By Anitha Narayanmurthy, Nutritionist
Have you ever had a chocolate and felt happy? Does your favorite food bring a smile on your face?
Most of us would answer yes for the above questions. Then why are Diet and Nutrition mostly related to physical appearance and illness. It’s probably least associated with the brain or mental health in general. The brain is always working as you move, eat, sleep or even just think without any physical activity. It controls all the vital organ functions and is at work round the clock without a break. If such is the function of the brain it also requires constant fueling to perform optimally. Here the fuel comes from the food we eat. So, the kind of food we eat directly affects the structure and function of our brain and which in turn affects your moods. It has been proven over and over again how emotions could trigger our eating habits and vice versa.
Eating foods rich in Vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants help nourish our brain and protect it from the free radical damage due to oxidative stress (the body uses oxygen to help us burn this causes damage to the cell- this is the process of aging). High sugar diets are bad for the brain and also worsens the regulation of insulin in the blood and increase oxidative stress and are the most common cause of inflammation in the body. Multiple studies have found the direct co-relation between diets high in sugar and mood swings and depression. For many years the medical field was not ready to acknowledge the relationship between food and mood. It only makes sense that if more free radicals are circulating in the body and the spaces of the brain then brain tissue damage is inevitable. The growing field of nutritional psychiatry has found many such co-relations between not only what we eat and how we behave but also the kind of bacteria that live in our gut.
Good gut bacteria is equal to good digestion which is equal to sound mental health. There are trillions of good bacteria that live in our gut and these play an essential role in our overall well-being. They form a barrier to protect us from the toxins and bad bacteria in our intestine and help us absorb nutrients from the food we eat. They also help us in activating the neural path that runs between our gut and brain. Serotonin, the happy hormone is produced in our gastrointestinal tract and this hormone is the one that regulates our sleep, appetite, moods and reduces pain in the body. So it makes it more clear that the gut not only helps digest food but also guide our emotions. Studies have also shown that people having probiotics foods or supplements as a part of their everyday routine are happier people, their tolerance of stress, reaction to circumstances and handling pressure is a lot better than people who don’t consume probiotics.
Knowing all this is great but what do we do?
1. For starters eliminate all processed and refined foods.
2. Start paying attention to what you eat. Keep a food journal and write down what you ate and how you feel after eating and track this for 30 days. See if you can notice a pattern to your moods and the food you ate.
3. Try an elimination diet like dairy free, grain free etc and then slowly introduce one by one food groups to check if any of these are causing your moods to change either positively or negatively.
4. Add fermented food as a part of your diet every day to increase good gut bacteria.
Finally knowing the co-relation and not taking action is more harmful than ignorance.
Though the field of nutritional psychiatry is relatively new we have enough and more studies that prove the right kind of food can alter mental health.