What we eat affects our mood
by Simone do Carmo
in Blogs

Some evidence suggests that depression shares common pathological mechanisms with obesity, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. These mechanisms include reduced insulin sensitivity, the production of pro-inflammatory molecules and functional changes in the inner lining of our blood vessels.

This theory is further supported by the beneficial effects of monounsaturated fats and a balanced omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Monounsaturated fats have anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants that protect the body against oxidative stress, i.e. “waste” that is generated when your body uses oxygen. In contrast, the consumption of trans fats contributes towards a greater risk of developing depression.

Studies have also shown that the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet – both high in vegetables, fruits, fish, unprocessed grains, a modest amount of meat and dairy, and filled with fermented foods – reduce the risk of depression by 25 to 35 per cent compared to the typical Western diet that is filled with processed food, refined oils and sugars.

Another aspect to consider is our gut bacteria. Good bacteria play an essential role in our health and wellbeing. They preserve the gut lining, protect against pathogenic organisms and toxins, improve the absorption of nutrients from the foods we consume, limit inflammation, and influence the production of serotonin. Serotonin is the brain neurotransmitter that makes us feel less pain, more relaxed, less anxious, and it helps to regulate our appetite and sleep. Good bacteria are key players in regulating the way we feel as 95 per cent of serotonin and many other molecules are produced in our gut, which can directly activate the vagus nerve that transmits information about the state of our gut to the brain. This biochemical signalling is known as the gut-brain axis.

gut brain

So, what can you do to feel better?

Start by being mindful of what you’re eating and how it makes you feel. Writing things down often helps, so make a list of foods and how they make you feel. Try eliminating refined oils, processed and sugary foods from your diet. Don’t be afraid of eating healthy fats found in nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and oily fish. This should quickly make you feel better.

Some people tend to be sensitive to dairy, wheat and/or gluten and eating these foodstuffs regularly may only be worsening inflammation throughout their body, in turn affecting how they feel. Listen to your body when you eat foods containing these potential offenders. If you find yourself experiencing common symptoms such as headaches, joint pain, bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, ‘foggy mind’ and low mood, this does not mean you have to eliminate them completely from your diet forever. Your immune system, 70 per cent of which is localised in the gut, could just need a little ‘break’. If you re-introduce these potential offenders and you experience the symptoms again, you may need to consider removing them completely. Otherwise, play around with the amounts. You might be able to tolerate small quantities of dairy, wheat and/or gluten. There are also plenty of other alternatives to these foodstuffs which could help you feel better.

And finally, add some fermented foods to your diet – I’d say at least once a day! You can have sauerkraut, sourdough bread, tempeh, kefir, kombucha, kimchi and yoghurt with live cultures and no added sugar. These act as natural probiotics: the good bacteria that help keep both your gut and brain healthy.

“I always trust my gut reaction; it’s always right.” ~ Kiana Tom