It may surprise some to know that there is a strong link between mental health and the food and drink that we consume. All our body parts are connected to our emotions, but there is a strong brain-gut connection.
This means that eating well can help us feel well.
On the other hand, if we are emotionally disturbed when we eat, our digestive process may not work as usual. The stomach has nerve endings that respond to stress hormones. As such, when we are suffering from stress or anxiety, our digestion can get affected and we may develop tummy troubles, such as nausea or bloating. This is sometimes called a “nervous stomach”.
We can improve the way our body processes food through mindful eating. By paying attention to the act of eating–such as smelling, chewing, and swallowing–we shift our focus from our troubles and let our body do the work it needs to do, and this in effect may help diminish depression. Participants in research trials that used this approach were able to reduce their compulsive eating habits, improve their self-control, and alleviate symptoms of depression, among other benefits (Guzman, 2020).
Deficiency in amino acids, omega-3, minerals and B-vitamins are common among people with mental health problems. According to Sathyanarayana (2008), amino acid supplements could play a role in alleviating mental health difficulties as they are converted to neurotransmitters which diminish depression and other mental health problems. Omega fatty acids found in fish oil have also been found to have antidepressant properties.
To elevate our moods, we should consume foods that promote good gut health. Probiotic foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi or other ferments are some examples. Likewise, food high in fibres, polyphenols and unsaturated fatty acids are also good for the gut, creating anti-inflammatory substances.
According to Kimberley Wilson (The Food Programme), a psychologist who works in nutrition and mental health, people do not often apply the same preventative measures to mental health as we do for physical health. Yet, the evidence from research is clear: a healthy food and diet are very important to our brains. What we eat profoundly affects how we feel; improving our diets helps alleviate depression and anxiety and the more we do so, the more our mental health can improve. By paying more attention to what we eat and how we eat, we can be kinder to ourselves and promote better physical and mental wellbeing.