Food & Mood
Did you know?
The food we eat affects how we feel, think, and behave. Our brains are always “on”, taking care of our thoughts, movements, breathing, and heartbeat, even while we’re asleep. This means that our brains need a constant supply of fuel from the foods we eat. What’s in that fuel affects how well our brains can work.
Our brains on whole vs processed foods
Whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables are digested more slowly, leaving us feeling full and energetic for a longer period of time. These foods give our brains the nutrients needed to complete daily work. In comparison, sugary and processed foods are often absorbed quickly, causing an initial burst of energy that soon wears off, leaving us feeling tired and sluggish. These foods are often missing the nutrients needed for our brains to work as well as they can.
What is depression?
Depression is a mental illness characterized by many symptoms including: sadness, loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite, fatigue, and feeling worthless. Our bodies make chemical messengers that can help control our mood. Symptoms of depression are thought to happen when there are low amounts of these messengers.
What’s food got to do with it?
Think of construction: we need building materials like wood, insulation, and a roof to make a sturdy and working house. In order for our bodies to build enough chemical messengers (that can help control our mood), they need enough proteins, vitamins, and minerals. We can get enough of these building materials through the foods we eat.
For example, our bodies need enough B-vitamins, magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, and protein to make serotonin- the “feel good” chemical messenger. Without these building blocks, our bodies won’t be able to make some or any serotonin. If our bodies can’t make serotonin for a long time, this could lead to depression symptoms.
What does the research say?
A review of over 20 studies looked at the connection between diet and risk of depression. This study found that a diet high in red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, and high-fat dairy products is related to an increased risk of depression.
In addition, specific foods have also been shown to improve mental health in people with depression. A study found that people who changed their diet to include more whole grains, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, and fish improved their score on the depression scale. Those who did not change their diet didn’t have any improvement to their mental health.
What can I do?
A healthy diet is good for our physical health- but now it’s time to think about what our diet can do for our mental health. Fortunately, the focus stays the same: try to eat a balanced diet. Include some vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins with every meal. Choose processed foods, red meats, high fat foods and sweets less often. Eating nutritious foods can make sure both our bodies and our brains are properly fueled to work as best they can.
Sabrina Orsini (Dietetic Intern) & Michelle Stevens (Registered Dietitian)