Everyone has down days, but if you find yourself constantly feeling down for weeks on end, you may have a depressive disorder. Or, if you’re constantly feeling on edge and uneasy, it might be anxiety. It’s important to talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling so she can help you get on the right track. But there’s one important change you can make from home: eat healthier. Yes, the types of food you choose to eat can actually affect your mood. Research shows that deficiencies in nutrition can actually can actually contribute to depression and anxiety, while eating foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and pasta (foods with a low glycemic index) have been shown to provide a lasting effect on brain chemistry, mood, and energy levels.
Here’s how it works.
How Food Affects Your Mood
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for your moods, as well as regulating sleep and appetite. Studies have found that about 95% of the serotonin in your body is produced in your gastrointestinal tract. The production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters is influenced by the ‘good’ bacteria that’s present in your intestinal microbiome. These bacteria affect your everyday health more than you might realize. They limit inflammation, provide a barrier against toxins, and improve how well you absorb nutrients from your food. They also activate neural pathways between the gut and the brain.
Eating healthy and clean food promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut, which positively affects the production of neurotransmitters. A diet that’s high in junk food, on the other hand, can cause inflammation, overpopulation of ‘bad’ bacteria, and a decrease in neurotransmitter production. When neurotransmitter production is in high gear thanks to lots of healthy foods, your brain receives positive messages, which reflects in your mood. When production is halted due to a diet heavy in junk food, your mood may start to plummet.
Sugar is one of the worst offenders in this regard. Sugar is known to cause inflammation in the body, which has been shown to contribute to depression. Plus, it feeds the ‘bad’ bacteria in the digestive tract. It’s also more addictive than cocaine. In fact, it stimulates the brain’s reward center and causes a temporary spike in serotonin and dopamine. This is shortly followed by a crash that sets your body – and your mood – up for disaster.
Sticking to a diet of healthy and clean foods will help improve your mood, with more stability and fewer fluctuations, as well as an improved ability to focus. A healthy diet full of vegetables, fruits, and healthy whole grains can help with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Foods that Promote Mental Health
So, what foods should you try to incorporate into your diet for the best mental health boost? Luckily, it isn’t too complicated. Here’s what to look for at the grocery store or local farmer’s market:
- Fruits and vegetables. Your first step is to get your fill of produce. You can’t go wrong with whole fruits and vegetables, just as nature intended. They’re full of fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients. They’re also high in prebiotics, which helps feed the healthy bacteria in your gut.
- Whole grains. You’ll want to avoid refined carbs, like pasta and bread, but whole grains, such as oats, quinoa, and brown rice, are on the menu. Whole grains are packed with fiber and heart-healthy vitamins and minerals.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Your brain is mostly made up of fat. This means that getting enough omega-3 fatty acids is essential, especially EPA and DHA, which have been found to have potential benefits in the treatment of neurodegenerative and neurological disorders. You’ll find them in fatty fish, like salmon, as well as chia seeds and walnuts.
- Fermented foods. Fermented foods are packed with probiotics, which help populate your digestive tract with beneficial bacteria. Examples of fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir.
How to Make Positive Changes in Your Life
You don’t have to completely switch to clean eating overnight. In fact, that’s a surefire way for your healthy lifestyle plans to backfire. Instead, it’s better to start slow. Try incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet. This simple addition can help you get you off to the right start. As you begin to feel better, you can slowly replace your favorite comfort foods with cleaner alternatives. For example, instead of carb-heavy pasta, choose cooked spaghetti squash topped with your favorite marinara sauce. Or, instead of sitting down to eat a pint of ice cream, opt for a bowl of fresh strawberries topped with sugar-free homemade whipped cream.
Eating healthy foods can help keep your mood stable so you feel your best. Start out slow and incorporate more clean and healthy foods into your diet and see how good you feel.