“Each morning, your peace arrives at your door in the form of your choices.” ~ Unknown
I heard this quote the other day, and it hit home about the choices I make every day to preserve and protect my mental health. As we wrap up May- Mental Health Awareness month- I thought I’d share information about the power of healthy food choices and how nutrition can play a key role in how you approach your mental health.
I am ridiculously passionate about this topic- food plays a significant role in how you feel physically and mentally. Studies have shown that diet can be used to fight depression. In one study, the SMILES trial, participants who ate a Mediterranean-style diet showed a significant decrease in their depression symptoms over the 12-week study. At the end of the study, nearly 1/3 of those met the criteria for remission (Jacka et al., 2017). This is an exciting area of research that continues to evolve.
While it’s not 100% certain what’s behind these positive outcomes, the general thinking is that it’s because whole foods offer nutrients and phytochemicals that reduce inflammation in the body. It’s thought that inflammatory immune cells communicate with the Brain, affecting mood and energy levels. Also, when you eat these foods, your gut produces more “good” bacteria. Did you know that 90% of serotonin is made in your gut? Serotonin is the “happy hormone.” It promotes positive feelings and helps regulate anxiety, happiness, and mood.
This is not just a cute, nice topic to talk about- food is one of your weapons to empower you, to fight the war on mental health. Here are 5 practical strategies:
1. Reduce or eliminate processed foods- Decreases Inflammation.
Ditch boxed or packed foods. Why? They are usually terrible for you and include a lot of salt, sugar, and fat. These foods have been proven to make you sick and promote chronic inflammation (not good- see above).
2. Add more protein to your diet- Helps to Produce Key Neurotransmitters in the Brain.
Up your protein intake. Foods rich in protein contain amino acids to help produce the key neurotransmitters to prevent and treat depression and anxiety. Try and aim for about 100 grams of protein per day (about your body weight in grams of protein). Also, eating protein with carbs and fat at meals and snacks helps you avoid sugary, processed foods, which can trigger anxiety and depression.
3. Stop eating after dinner- Promotes rest and Recovery of Vital Processes in the Body.
Give your systems a rest. Your body needs additional time to rest and recover. It takes at least 8 hours for your body to fully digest your last meal. Also, intermittent fasting turns on autophagy, which allows your Brain to detoxify from the day. This self-cleaning process helps clear out old and damaged cells and promotes the regeneration of newer, healthier cells (Bagherniya et al., 2018). Intermittent fasting has also been shown to found that intermittent fasting was associated with significant improvements in emotional well-being and depression (Hussin et al., 2013).
4. Reduce alcohol intake- Decreases Levels of Cortisol.
Ever get the wine wake-ups or “hangxiety?” As alcohol is working its way out of your system, your body produces dynorphin, the opposite of endorphin, making you feel down. When you drink (even just one), your blood alcohol content rises, and your Brain artificially produces dopamine. Since your Brain also wants to be balanced, it counteracts by producing cortisol which may cause you to wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety or worry.
5. Stay curious- Keep Learning and Experiment with Different Healthy Foods.
There isn’t a one size fits all approach to this stuff! Chances are, if you’re reading or watching this, you may be open to trying out different ideas to improve your physical or mental health. Keep trying out new food and different strategies that work for you (and share what you learn here and with others!).
Want to keep exploring topics about food and mood? Check out this video on the SONG diet.
Bagherniya, M., Butler, A. E., Barreto, G. E., & Sahebkar, A. (2018). The effect of fasting or calorie restriction on autophagy induction: A review of the literature. Ageing Research Reviews, 47, 183–197. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arr.2018.08.004
Hussin, N. M., Shahar, S., Teng, N. I. M. F., Ngah, W. Z. W., & Das, S. K. (2013). Efficacy of fasting and calorie restriction (FCR) on mood and depression among ageing men. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, 17(8), 674–680. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-013-0344-9
Jacka, F. N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R., Itsiopoulos, C., Cotton, S., Mohebbi, M., Castle, D., Dash, S., Mihalopoulos, C., Chatterton, M. L., Brazionis, L., Dean, O. M., Hodge, A. M., & Berk, M. (2017). A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Medicine, 15(1), 23. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y