Throughout my time in this field my interest in the connection between food and mood has been ever growing. We’ve all heard the term “Hangry,” the concept of one becoming less patient when hungry, right? I always tell people they have about 30 minutes between when I tell them I need to eat before I become hangry. There’s so much truth behind this concept, I’ve learned.
This concept has led me to explore further how nutrition is linked to mood and mental health issues. Our brains are our power houses, without the proper nutrition and rest it’s only natural that the power house would start to shut down a little. It needs fuel, just like our cars need fuel to get us from home to work / school, our brains and bodies need food to help us maintain emotional stability and get us through the day.
Does this mean I can just eat a bag of chips or a candy bar and my brain will be fueled? A resounding NO! Our brains can be damaged by low quality foods such as those that are processed or refined.
Processed foods create inflammation and oxidative stress. Whoa that’s a term that probably needs to be explained a bit. Oxidative stress occurs when the number of free radicals in our bodies outnumber the antioxidants, which prevent damage from occurring in our bodies and maintain balance. When the number of free radicals exceeds the antioxidants, this is when oxidation damages our cells, proteins and even our DNA!!! Crazy right!?!?
Processed foods also have an impact on our digestive tract. This was the big “AHA” moment to me. About 95% of the Serotonin our bodies produce happens in, you guessed it, our gastrointestinal tract! Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that assists with regulating sleep, appetite, mediating moods and suppressing pain.
So what do we do? How do we change this process? Make better choices in the kitchen!!
Giving your body high-quality foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants provides nourishment to our brain, fosters an environment to support the healthy, “good” bacteria in our digestive tracts and protects against oxidative stress. Choosing healthier, whole, unprocessed foods will also help protect you digestive tract to allow your body to absorb the nutrients, protect against the toxins and “bad” bacteria, limiting inflammation, and allowing the neural pathways between the digestive tract and brain to be active.
Research indicates that such nutrients as Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Folic Acid and B12 and Vitamin D may directly correlate to mood. Also studied are the comparison of nutritional intake around the world and overwhelmingly demonstrate that the risk of depression for someone consuming the standard American diet over a Mediterranean or traditional Japanese diet is significantly increased.
So what do we do now? How do we fix it? Awareness is the key. Start by being more aware of what foods you’re consuming and how you feel afterwards. Make small changes to your nutrition intake. Begin with increasing your intake of whole, all-natural foods, packing healthy snacks, and ensuring you’re eating high-quality foods regularly.
There is no perfect, what you’re striving for is progress and health. Set a goal for yourself and share it with those around you for accountability. Maybe even finding a friend to team up with you and make the changes together. The main thing is to set a goal to start somewhere and follow through.
Carah Elizabeth, MA, LPC