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Over the years, researchers mainly focused on how the food we consume affects our physical health and few studies on the mental health side. They even admitted that this field was somewhat ignored. Mental health is complex, and of course, food is not the single factor affecting our wellbeing, but it does play a role. In the interview with the New York Times, Dr Jacka, the Food & Mood Centre director at Deakin University in Australia and the president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, says:“Eating a salad is not going to cure depression. But there’s a lot you can do to lift your mood and improve your mental health, and it can be as simple as increasing your intake of plants and healthy foods.”
Consuming healthy food promotes the growth of “good bacteria”, or a healthy gut that affects neurotransmitter production. For example, dopamine and serotonin help regulate our mood and wellbeing, sleep cycle and metabolism. On the contrary, junk food and a high sugar level can cause inflammation that holds up the production. Thus, when neurotransmitter production is well-maintained, our brain will receive this positive message and echo it through our emotions. On the other hand, when the production is hindered, our mood might become awry.
As the primary culprit, sugar sometimes confuses us because it can also create a temporary spike in the “feel good” vibe akin to dopamine. But the result of the sugar rush is a catastrophe for our mood—it triggers mood fluctuations and weakens our focus. Highly refined sugar is harmful to our brain—it’s worsening our body’s insulin regulation and promoting oxidative stress, which has been proven in multiple studies. For example, a study conducted by Harvard Review of Psychiatry states that the gut microbiome plays a role in various psychiatric disorders. Another report found that people who consume enough nutrient-dense food experience less depression, become happier and have a higher level of wellbeing and life satisfaction.
Nutritional psychiatry is a fast-growing approach that uses food and supplements in the treatment of mental health conditions. Back in 2018, 18 scientists concluded that nutrition is a vital factor in mental disorders. Nutritional treatment perceives how food is strongly linked to cognitive and brain health and it may help prevent, treat and improve wellbeing. It means that we need to start to pay attention to our intake—look closely and begin to take note of how different foods create various moods. For accuracy, we need to do it for many days to ensure that particular food affects us differently. Having said that, everyone would experience a different reception.
Nutritional psychiatry explains why our choice of food matters for changing our mood and overall wellbeing; it is because 95% of our serotonin is produced in our gastrointestinal tract, and it is lined with a hundred million neurones. Hence, it makes sense that our digestive system has a larger role than merely digesting food but it also directs and guides our emotions. For example, increased consumption of a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables has been associated with increased reported happiness and higher levels of mental health and wellbeing.
“Traditional” diets similar to Mediterranean and Japanese are better than the typical “Western” diet. The reason being is traditional diets tend to be high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and fish and seafood, and contain only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy. They are also void of processed and refined foods and sugars, which are staples of the “Western” dietary pattern.
To make it simple, here are some steps that we can start to elevate our mood healthily;
To learn more about which food can help us to ease our anxiety and reduce depression, Dr Drew Ramsey--founder of the Brain Food Clinic in New York--published a book that is worth reading.
+ Words: Alvia Zuhadmono, Luxiders Magazine
Sustainable Communication student| Sweden-based writer
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