Food has an impact on every aspect of our lives, so it’s no surprise that there is a connection between nutrition and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Here’s how nourishing foods can play a supportive role.
There is no doubt that mood disorders are complex conditions influenced by factors like genetics and life stressors. Treatment often involves therapy and medication; however, as research unravels the close and complicated relationship between physical and mental health, there is no doubt that nutrition can play an important role.
In fact, nutrition plays a supportive role by providing the biochemical factors that influence the health of our brain, right down to the neural connections.
Deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with a higher prevalence of mood disorders. If you want to support your both mind and body with nutrition but aren’t sure of where to start, these three steps can help.
1. GO BACK TO THE BASICS
The foundation starts with incorporating nourishing foods through balanced meals that provide your body and brain with the basic building blocks to properly function. Caloric restriction may have long-term detrimental effects in depression by decreasing leptin levels (the “hunger” hormone) and inhibiting the function of serotonin receptors (the “feel good” hormone). Food is needed to fuel and nourish the body, so diets that tout food restriction has no place in mental health management.
2. IMPROVE YOUR GUT HEALTH
You may be thinking, “What does digestion have to do with my mood?” The digestive system (i.e. your gut) is actually referred to as the second brain. Research shows gut health is strongly connected to mental health, as 95% of the body’s serotonin is made in the gut. Serotonin levels are associated with positive mood and physical well-being, and can be severely impacted under stressful environments.
Many studies support the possibility of a two-way interaction where serotonin influences mood, and mood influences serotonin. For this reason, supporting your gut health through food and probiotic intake may be crucial for both physical and mental health. Probiotics, or “good” bacteria that flourish in the digestive tract, help maintain your body’s overall gut health and actually influence the state of our mind, mood, and more. However, antibiotics, poor nutrition, and stress can also kill off the good guys, so support your digestive health by:
- Adding in fruit, veggies, beans, and whole grains
- Drinking plenty of water
- Consuming a combination of prebiotics (which feeds your gut bacteria) and probiotics through food (yogurt, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut) and supplementation. When selecting a probiotic supplement, look for a high CFU (colony forming unit) count, between for 25-50 billion CFUs.
3. SUPPORT WITH THE RIGHT NUTRIENTS
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – These healthy fats are essential for the body and must be consumed through diet. As a building block for a healthy brain, Omega-3’s play a critical role in the development and function of the central nervous system and can be found in delicious foods such as salmon, tuna, hemp seeds, chia seeds and walnuts. In addition to food, a fish oil supplement can be a simple, more consistent way to achieve your daily Omega-3 intake.
Vitamin D – Emerging research demonstrates a connection between Vitamin D deficiency and mood disorders such as depression. In fact, the association between lack of sun exposure and depressive disorders have been well established for years. Nutritional sources of Vitamin D are limited, but can be found in certain fatty fish and eggs. Statistics suggest that 70% of the U.S. population is Vitamin D deficient, so it can be beneficial to get your levels tested with a physician and consider supplementation.
Magnesium – A mineral that’s been called “the original chill pill”, magnesium can be found in spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, and dark chocolate. Magnesium has been researched regarding its positive impact in depression and anxiety; although more research is needed, its beneficial effects on anxiety and stress have been implicated.
Remember, nourishing foods is more than just for your body: it’s also for your mind.
The details in this article are for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace medical advice from a qualified health care practitioner or therapist.
Adapted from the original article.
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Jessica Patel, RDN, LDN is a Chicago-based private practice dietitian who helps others connect with good food through simple, healthful cooking techniques. With a love for wholesome, natural food, Jessica uses a holistic-minded approach to nutrition to help her clients stay healthy through the healing power of nourishing foods. Visit her at Well Fed Nutrition.