Have you watched the documentary 'Super-Size Me'? That documentary shows an extreme case of how food affects one’s mood. In the movie, one can appreciate how diet wreaks havoc not only on physical health (weight gain, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure), but it also has a big effect on mental health (depression, sadness, fatigue).
Let’s take depression as an example, which is a serious illness and very common nowadays. Good nutrition could be used to improve mood and increased sense of wellbeing. It is crucial to remember that what we eat can determine how we feel, but how we feel can also determine what we eat. Each variety of food, has a different effect on the brain. Below are some examples:
Foods rich in carbohydrates increase serotonin, a brain chemical that has a calming effect; therefore, people often crave carbohydrate-rich foods when they are under stress.
Foods rich in protein increase tyrosine, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which help to increase alertness.
Foods rich in healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids) become part of the membranes of brain cells and control many of the brain functions.
Consequently, poor nutrition or lack of a variety of healthy foods can contribute to depression by limiting the availability of nutrients. It is also important to note that sometimes people may require larger amounts of certain nutrients due to deficiencies. For example, thiamine (vitamin B1), which is found in legumes, some seeds, and fortified grains, is necessary for maintaining one’s energy supplies, and it also coordinates activities of nerves and muscles. Hence, thiamine deficiency may lead to weakness, irritability, and depression. Folate (vitamin B9), which is found in leafy greens, legumes, and fortified grains, is vital for supporting red blood cell production, and allowing nerves to function properly. Folate deficiency can result in depression, apathy, fatigue, poor sleep, and poor concentration.
Please note that vitamins and minerals from food are much more readily and efficiently absorbed in the body than those obtained from supplements. By eating a wide variety of foods – including lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and low-fat dairy products – one is assured to obtain the nutrients needed to support a healthy body and mind.
Take-Home Message: Food affects both physical and mental health.
Challenge yourself to note how you feel after eating healthful (nutrient-rich foods) to experience how what food determines how we feel, our mood.
NCHPAD. (n.d.). Food and your mood: Nutrition and mental health. Retrieved from https://www.nchpad.org/606/2558/Food~and~Your~Mood~~Nutrition~and~Mental~Health