An extremely insightful conversation with the lovely Rebekah Esdale on The Garden’s IGTV this week influenced the topic of today’s blog post: Food and Mood.
Of course, we are unique and mental health holds different definitions for different people.
Whilst there is no generalised checklist which will improve health for all, and with an awareness of the extremely challenging factors which can influence our mood and mental wellbeing, hopefully the information shared today will help you to consider how certain foods or food groups may have a positive impact on your health as a whole – both physically and mentally.
That’s right – I’m talking about it again!
90 - 95% of our feel good hormone serotonin is produced in the gut. When we prioritise foods / lifestyle factors which will help to nourish our gut, we are more likely to produce a higher amount of serotonin, influencing our mood and mental wellbeing.
As well as this, what we eat affects our mood through our gut-brain axis. If we feed our gut microbes their preferred source of fuel (diverse fibre, mainly found in plants) it can enable calm signals to be sent to the brain, indicating things are okay. However, if we consistently eat highly processed fast foods which alter the balance of bacteria in the gut, stress signals can be sent to the brain. Messages that come from our microbiome can strongly influence our mental wellbeing.
A reminder of the things we can do to nourish our gut:
Eat: Include diverse, colourful fibre and consider prebiotics and probiotics.
Relax: Manage stress and prioritise calm – a stressed mind can lead to a stressed gut and vice versa.
Move: Regular exercise can increase the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
The smiles trial was a 12 week randomised trial led by Professor Felice Jacka. Those included in the trail had major clinical depression.
Those involved were assigned to one of two groups: counselling / social support and dietary support.
The dietary support included those in this group partaking in a more Mediterranean style diet, with an increase in foods such as fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans and pulses, oily fish and healthy fats. The people in this group also reduced their intake of highly processed foods.
The results of the trail were as follows:
32.3% of those who received dietary support achieved full remission of their depression.
8% of those who received counselling achieved full remission of their depression.
This comparison does not take away from the importance and benefits of counselling / talking therapy, however the dietary evidence is powerful. The extent of changes to the diet also correlated with the extent of improvement in depression. Interesting stuff!
Sense of purpose
When we are able to take control of certain areas of our health and look after ourselves a little more, this can generally lead to us feeling better. Investing more time in cooking or planning and preparing meals is a form of self care; it can help us feel valued and worthy. Sometimes, a sense of purpose or control can be lacking when we are suffering from chronic low mood. Directing our attention to how we can take better care of ourselves through food could be a supportive focus.
Eat what you love
When we are too focused on a specific way of eating, or eliminate certain foods or foods groups that we enjoy from our diet without real reason, this can not only change our relationship with food but also how we feel. A reminder that there are no good or bad foods and food should not be associated with guilt or shame but enjoyed in the moment! Sometimes that ice-cream on a sunny day or slice of cake at a café with a friend can make you feel great – I like to call it soul food! It’s all about the balance!
Specific foods / nutrients
Omega 3 fatty acids work to reduce inflammation, contribute to the formation of cell membranes and allow brain cells to communicate with one and other; important contributors to mental wellbeing. Foods rich in omega 3 include oily fish, nuts and seeds.
A fibre rich diet can influence our mood and mental wellbeing. As human’s we cannot actually digest fibre but is our gut bacteria’s preferred source of fuel. The fermented fibre produced by the bacteria creates short chain fatty acids which work to support our brain health.
Fibre is found in many plant foods. Sources include: Fruits and vegetables, oats, beans and legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds.
Carbohydrates are our body and brains preferred source of fuel – they provide us with energy to complete our daily to dos, which will contribute to our mood and how we feel. Complex carbs include: fruit and vegetables, whole grains, brown rice, pasta, bread and potatoes.
Polyphenols are a micronutrient found in colourful fruits and vegetables and dark chocolate (yay). They can work to travel through the body to lower inflammation and release endorphins which could help to boost our mood!
Magnesium rich foods can also help to boost mood, relax muscles and support brain health. Including leafy greens, whole grains, nuts and seeds and cacao (hello The Garden’s Holy Cacao Smoothie)!
As above, there is evidence to suggest that the food we eat can play a part in our mood and mental wellbeing. Again, that’s not to suggest food is a ‘fix’ for low mood; many factors which affect our mental health are out of our control. However, if you’re working to improve your overall energy and mindset, or on a mission to feel more positive, working to adapt a more diverse and colourful, fibre rich Mediterranean diet could be a good place to start.
Holistic Health Coach - Anna Whyte
The ‘Wellness with Anna’ philosophy focuses on taking a more balanced and holistic approach to health. Often, the tools needed to make a lasting change are already in your toolbox. I offer client led guidance in order to support the progress of an individual working to meet their personal wellness goals. I will not diagnose, treat or take responsibility for bringing about wellness change, but direct, listen and support development. We work together on a journey to make health a main priority, both physically and mentally.