You are what you eat and how you feel.
You have heard plenty of times that a healthy diet is related to a healthy heart, and in general, to a healthy body, reducing the risk of diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and even some cancers. But can a healthy diet affect your mind?
Certainly, there is a relationship between food and mood, what you eat affects directly the structure and function of your brain, and therefore, your mood.
Over the past years, many evidence-based studies indicate that food may affect your mood in several ways. It is a complex relationship, which depends “on the time of the day”, the quality and quantity of the macro and micronutrients consumed, and the age and dietary history of the person. Diet may change brain structure, chemistry, and physiology, thus affecting mood and performance. In the same way, food might improve cognitive function and memory, reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
Think about it…
The brain is working 24/7, without a break (even when we sleep), needing a constant supply of fuel. However, it is not able to synthesize or store its own energy, so food provides an immediate source of energy. How well your brain will work depends on the kind of “fuel” you provide by eating. It’s no surprise that, as with the rest of our body, our brain works better with “premium fuel” like nutrient-dense foods; full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, the right kind of carbohydrates and fats. Although it can’t “cure” depression or put us in a better mood instantly, food can bring changes in how we feel and behave.
Ways food influences mood
Some researchers emphasize the relationship between the gut bacteria and the brain, saying that bacteria modulate the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin- which helps regulate sleep, appetite, mediates moods and impulse control, and inhibits pain. According to Harvard researchers, 95% of serotonin is produced by the neurons of the gastrointestinal tract and is influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria that make up the intestinal microbiome; concluding that the digestive system not only helps to digest and absorb food but also guides emotions. Studies have found that people who include probiotics- naturally fermented foods containing “good” bacteria- in their diets have lower levels of anxiety, better perception of stress and mental outlook, than people who don’t include them.
Eating the right type of carbohydrates. Glucose, the preferred source of energy for the brain, comes from carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates, as the ones found in whole grains, release glucose slowly, providing a steady source of fuel for the brain. On the other hand, there is a relation between consumption of highly refined sugars and processed foods with impaired brain function and mood disorders like depression.
Eating protein with carbohydrates is important, too. Serotonin is created from the amino acid tryptophan, which gets inside the brain easier when carbohydrate-rich foods are eaten as well. Other nutrients that are thought to help increase serotonin in the brain are B vitamins, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Not only food, spices are also related to the ability to change or improve mental status. Curcumin, a polyphenol found in turmeric root, widely used in Asian cuisine (it gives curry the golden yellow color) has positive effects on cognitive functions like improving memory on the aging brain.
There is still plenty to understand how exactly food can modify mood and optimize brain performance. As usual, a well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, moderate in fats is the best bet to do it.