If you’ve been feeling blue lately, a part of the reason could be your diet.
Our brain is always working, handling our movement, breathing, thoughts, heartbeat, and more, even when we’re sleeping. Much like a car, our brain constantly needs fuel, which comes from the food we eat. What’s in that fuel is crucial. What we eat has a direct impact on how well our brain functions and, as a result, our mood.
Our brain performs best when it gets high-quality fuel. In other words, nutritious food filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Foods like that nourish the brain and prevent oxidative stress, cell damage caused when the body uses oxygen. Conversely, eating low-quality foods (such as processed or refined foods) can cause inflammation and put more oxidative stress on the brain.
“Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function, and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders such as depression,” says Alessia Tan, nutritionist and business mentor at USANA Health Sciences. “Therefore, a healthy diet protects our mental health, while an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.”
How our diet affects our mood
95 percent of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates our sleep, appetite, and mood, is produced in our gastrointestinal tract, which is lined with millions of neurons. In short, that means our digestive system doesn’t just help digest food, but also influences our emotions. These neurons are affected by the good bacteria in our gut microbiome that protect the intestine lining and provide a strong barrier against “bad” bacteria, improve nutrient absorption from food, limit inflammation, and activate neural pathways between the brain and gut.
“A diet rich in nutrients like omega-3 and zinc boosts levels of a brain protein that helps increase connections between brain cells. On the other hand, a diet high in saturated fats and refined sugars has a very potent negative impact on brain proteins,” says Alessia.
Since the food we eat not only affects how we feel, but also how we behave as a result, as well as the types of bacteria in our gut, it’s crucial to pay attention to what we are putting into our body.
Here are some mental health-supporting foods to add to your diet.