FOOD & MOOD: LINKING NUTRITION WITH MENTAL HEALTH

Updated: Aug 29


The human mind is the strongest weapon you can ever possess as well as the most fragile one. As paradoxical as it may seem, there’s no denying the fact that it is the most complex and intricate thing in existence. So it is but natural that this super-engine requires constant and superior quality nourishment. And that nourishment can be derived from the food we eat.


Studies are being conducted since the past decade to understand the relation between food and mental health and it has been found that nutrition plays an important role in the mental health of an individual. In simple terms, what you eat has a direct relation to the structure and function of your brain and in essence, your mood. This has led to the birth of a new field in psychiatry, namely nutritional psychiatry.


There is a reason for the saying- You are what you eat! Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that mediates moods, manages pain, and regulates sleep and appetite. The gastrointestinal tract is lined with hundred million nerve cells or neurons as about 95% of serotonin is produced here. Your gut bacteria also help to keep inflammation (which affects mood and cognition) in check. This shows that the inner workings of your digestive system have a direct impact on your emotions.


Food has an integral role in the development, management and prevention of mental health problems, like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Alzheimer’s disease. It has been found that people with the lowest-quality diet or higher intake of junk food have an 80% higher risk of depression than those who eat a better-quality diet consisting of whole-foods. This risk is double in case of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

It has been noticed that there is some association between emotional well-being and certain nutrients in food. These nutrients include vitamin D, vitamin B, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, folic acid, and tryptophan. This may be because they improve the connection between brain cells. At the same time, there have been multiple studies to prove a direct relation between impaired brain function including worsening of symptoms of mood disorders like depression, schizophrenia, etc, and a diet high in refined sugars.


A nutritious diet for good mental health follows the same baselines as a weight control plan or heart-friendly diet. Limiting sugar and processed foods, and increasing the intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can be really helpful for a healthy mind. It is advisable to swap butter for healthy fats like olive oil. The secret is to consume foods that contain more nutrients and fewer calories. A Mediterranean diet is considered perfect for this purpose as it includes the majority of fresh fruits and vegetables with healthy fats like olive oil.


The Nutrients That Help To Gain a Better Mental Health & Why:

  • B vitamins: It reduces chances of brain inflammation and lowers the risk of depression and dementia.

  • Iron: Iron-deficiency anaemia can worsen symptoms of depression.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are very healthy as they improve memory, thinking abilities and also your mood.

  • Zinc: It helps against depression.

Probiotic foods like kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut help reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. Oily fish like salmon are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and vitamin B12. The antioxidants in dark chocolate aid memory and improve mood.

Eating disorders like Bulimia Nervosa or simply Bulimia is also an important aspect of mental health directly linked to food. It is a psychological eating disorder where a person binges on food and then tries to purge it. It is more commonly seen in young girls during late childhood or early adulthood. It is thought to be caused due to dissatisfaction with one’s own body and extreme concern with physical figure and size. Usually bulimic individuals tend to have low self-esteem and have fear of becoming overweight. This makes it very important for them to have a positive relation with food right from a young age. An important fact to be accepted is that food is the source of nourishment for your body and the act of eating does not have to be linked to feelings of guilt or regret. Mindful eating plays an important role in enabling people to have a positive relation with food.


But when we talk about food and the effect it has on an individual’s personality, one important aspect that cannot be ignored is the effect hunger and malnutrition have on the mental well-being of a person. Childhood hunger has found to have more lasting effects than previously assumed. The effects of hunger and malnutrition are quite evident even after a child reaches adulthood. The brain requires the most energy for proper growth and function, especially in babies. This makes it most vulnerable to damage when essential nutrients aren’t there.


Malnutrition causes impaired growth and development which can interrupt a child’s education in several ways. Children require sufficient food and nutrients every day to improve focus and achieve their full potential. Malnutrition can lead to mental deficits, as well as issues like delayed emotional development, impaired motor functions, depression, etc. Lack of sufficient nourishment can cause depression in young mothers, which in turn has a negative impact on a child’s behaviour and emotional development. Childhood malnutrition has been directly linked to low productivity in later stages of life.


Childhood malnutrition and hunger can cause physical or developmental disabilities in adulthood. A study published in the ’Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry’ revealed that people (adults) who grew up in Barbados and had suffered severe starvation as infants were more anxious and hostile, not open to new experiences and less sociable than their well-nourished counterparts.


All this shows the integral role food and nutrition play in the mental well-being of an individual. Proper nutrition is essential for good mental health of a person. Lifestyle changes, balanced diet and proper nutrition can go a long way in aiding recovery of people facing psychological issues. As Virginia Woolf has said, “One cannot think well, love well, and sleep well, if one has not dined well.”


If you feel like you need to speak to a professional with regards to your mental health, write to us at info@themoodspace.com or Book your Initial Consultation on www.themoodspace.com/freeconsultation


Written by- Kejal Sheth

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