Want to Change Your Mood? Change Your Food!

The link between diet and brain functioning has finally been revealed; what goes in your mouth can affect your mind… for better or worse.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Inika Agarwal

Like any well-oiled machine, the human brain runs on a powerful fuel. In this case, the “fuel” is composed of the various vital nutrients acquired through nourishing foods, such as fruits and vegetables. However, when these nutrients fail to enter the body or are replaced by insufficient substitutes or alternatives, the brain’s functions and efficiency take a drastic hit. What one eats has now been proven to directly affect the structure and functioning of the brain and ultimately, their mental health.

The human brain is responsible for managing every single process that occurs within our bodies. It controls countless metabolic processes, life-saving chemical reactions, and even what we take for granted every day, such as thought and motion. Each second, our brain orders approximately two neurons, or chemical messengers, to send signals to various parts of our body. If the speed of this reaction were slowed by even five percent, a number of highly damaging consequences could come to pass: from something as simple as memory loss to life-threatening cerebral dysfunction, dementia, or even death.

Most importantly, however, the brain gets the energy to supervise the millions of metabolic processes that occur in our bodies from one crucial source: food!

First of all, eating high-quality foods containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants helps protect the brain from “oxidative stress”: the process by which harmful molecules are produced when we breathe in oxygen. According to the Mayo Clinic, antioxidants are substances that protect your cells against these dangerous molecules, and they may play a role in warding off heart disease, cancer, and various other illnesses. As a bonus, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains high in antioxidants are typically high in fiber, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and excellent sources of vitamins and minerals. Saturated fats and excess cholesterol negatively impact the body’s functioning by clogging arteries, while vitamins and minerals improve metabolic processes. Now, however, multiple research studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function, and even depression.

This is where nutritional psychiatrists—scientists who study the link between diet and the brain—come in. Just recently, these psychiatrists have discovered the many connections between not only diet and brain activity, but also the kinds of bacteria that live in your gut. One nutritional psychiatrist Felice Jacka conducted several studies to analyze this correlation. Jacka is a renowned scientist, in addition to being President of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry. Her research is crucial to fully understanding the effects of diet on the brain.

In addition to bacteria, another molecule in your gut that greatly affects brain activity is the hormone serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter shown to regulate sleep and appetite, manage moods, and inhibit pain. According to a Harvard study researching gut bacteria and diet, since roughly 95 percent of this substance is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, which is lined with a hundred million nerve cells (neurons), there is an evident correlation between the interior of the digestive system and the guidance of emotions. What’s more, serotonin can only be produced if the billions of “good” gut bacteria that make up the intestinal microbiome are healthy and retain their normal functions.

Alongside Felice Jacka, nutritional psychiatrist Drew Ramsey appeared on CBS’s Sunday Morning Broadcast to announce that “food is brain medicine,” meaning that the bacteria present in food are solely responsible for activating the pathway between the gut and the brain. Ramsey specializes in gut bacteria and their neurological connection to our brains. He then added, “In your everyday life, the number one factor you have control over, in terms of your mental health, it’s at the end of your fork.” Clearly, the food we choose to put in our bodies are essential to our health.

Furthermore, studies show that individuals who follow a traditional diet, such as the Mediterranean diet or the Japanese diet, display a 25 to 35 percent decrease in depression tendency than those who consume the processed and refined food of the supposed “Western diet” common in the United States. These traditional diets are high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oils, while reduced in the amounts of added sugars and fats. The data stated here was recorded during one of Jacka’s studies that tested the effects of different diets on depression rate in individuals. Jacka, similar to Ramsey, also concluded that “What we stick in our mouths matters to our mental health.”

In this day and age, diet and mental health are both factors which many people, particularly in the West, seem to take for granted. The fast food industry thrives on our bodies’ cravings for refined sugar and high fat foods. In fact, according to Healthline, these unhealthy foods even stimulate hormones, such as dopamine, inducing a short-term happiness. Even though they may seem delicious at the time, these foods are nothing but trouble for us in the long run. Lately, scientists and researchers alike, including Felice Jacka and Drew Ramsey, have uncovered the groundbreaking connection between food and our minds. Each day, countless parents beg their children to eat the greens they have shoved to the side of their plate, and with no apparent reason except to make them suffer. We all know that fruits and vegetables are healthy, and that french fries and cheeseburgers are not, but this new discovery offers us an explanation of why it matters in our everyday lives. So next time you reach for that bag of chips, think again. Your brain will thank you.

“What we stick in our mouths matters to our mental health.”
—Felice Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry

“In your everyday life, the number one factor you have control over, in terms of your mental health, it’s at the end of your fork.”
—Drew Ramsey, Nutritional Psychiatrist