Nutrition Food and Mood: How Nutrition Affects Your Mental Health

Food and Mood: How Nutrition Affects Your Mental Health

Food and Mood: How Nutrition Affects Your Mental Health

The 20th century has seen our societies deviate from a ‘natural’ diet more than at any other time in history, and this lack of real food and nutrients is having profound and detrimental effects on our mental health and wellbeing. In the past decade, however, our understanding of the effects of diet on our mental health is rapidly improving, giving rise to nutritional psychiatry as a field of research, and presenting a new wave of preventative treatment for a range of mental health issues.

What Is Nutritional Psychiatry?

Although it’s a relatively new field of research, nutritional psychiatry aims to study the links between diet/nutrition and mental health issues. In doing so, these schools of thought aim to develop actionable solutions and nutritional guidelines which may help to improve or circumvent mental illness, such as depression and anxiety. 

For context, the Global Burden of Disease, Injuries, and Risk Factor study 2013 (GBD 2013) looked at a range of behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risk factors affecting our health. Whilst the diets changed across cultures, the findings (published in 2015) found that an unhealthy diet is now the leading cause of death and disease. 

An unhealthy diet can range from maternal malnutrition and unsafe water in Africa to a high body mass index (BMI) in America, leading to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. Whilst the physical effects of a poor diet have been more measurable to date, the research is also beginning to link nutrition to our mental health.

“Better quality diets are consistently associated with reduced depression risk, while unhealthy dietary patterns – higher in processed foods – are associated with increased depression and often anxiety.”
-Claire Young, Food and Mood Centre



Similarly, this study suggests that the evidence is beginning to mount to show that ‘diet and nutrition play an important role in the risk, and the genesis, of depression.’ This is particularly important when considering that more than half of all mental illnesses manifest by the time a person is 14, suggesting that poor diet and nutrition in the early stages of development may have irreversible effects on our mental health.

Your Brain on Food

Your brain uses a LOT of energy- up to 20% in a resting state. It is the control centre of our body, and regardless of whether we are awake, exercising or sleeping, it is on 24/7. That is, your brain requires a constant supply of energy to function correctly, which we obtain from the foods we eat

Eating high-quality and healthy foods means that we are supplying our system with the best possible forms of energy, and can therefore up-regulate our mental acuity. These foods can help to boost the immune system, reduce oxidative stress, and nourish the body. 

Conversely, processed or refined foods, which are often high in sugar and saturated fats, can be harmful to the brain and affect its ability to regulate inflammation, which has been shown to affect our mood and negatively compound the effects of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. 

How Food Affects Your Mood

Recent research has begun to show the links between poor mental health and poor food choices. These foods can affect brain proteins called neurotrophins, which have been shown to ‘protect the brain against oxidative stress and promote the growth of new brain cells.’ These cells have also been shown to affect areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory and mental health. 

Studies have also identified that depression is associated with- and potentially caused by- inflammation. According to the study, there is a range of factors which appear to increase the risk for the development of depression, most of which revolve around diet and (lack of) physical activity. These include:

  • Psychosocial stressors
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Smoking 
  • Altered gut permeability
  • Dental care
  • Sleep

The Harvard Medical school has also made note of the role that serotonin (a neurotransmitter) plays on our sleep, appetite and mood. The vast majority of serotonin (about 95%) is actually produced in the gastrointestinal tract, which not only helps to process and digest the food we consume, but can reduce inflammation at its source, and also guide/impact our emotions.

Our levels of serotonin are directly influenced by our gut biome and the levels of ‘good’ bacteria found, which can affect how we actually absorb and process the nutrients we obtain from food. This direct link between the gut and the brain can up-regulate our mood and stave off mental illness, or, in the case of poor dietary choices, lead to on-going mental and physical health issues. 

The hope is that through preventative measures such as improved diet and exercise we can reduce inflammation and can begin to regulate and repair the causation/symptoms of depression and anxiety. This may also extend to other psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mood-Boosting Foods That Are Great for Mental Health

What many people fail to realise is that the immune system is responsible for much more than just getting over the flu. Alongside the brain, it is literally responsible for reducing/regulating inflammation, which is responsible for the vast majority of physical and mental illness.

You may have heard statements that 70% (or more) of your immune system comes from the gut. That’s because the gut biome (made up of the trillions of naturally occurring and ingested bacteria) interacts with the brain using neural, inflammatory, and hormonal signaling pathways. 

It stands to reason that ingesting the right foods can directly impact our brain and our tendency towards or away from mental illness. 

Many studies have identified ‘traditional’ diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, as the most efficacious for regulating inflammation and mood, which can enhance our ability to stave off depression and anxiety.

For the most part, these are diets that are high in vegetables, fruits, pure water, fermented foods, unprocessed grains and fish/seafood as a source of protein. As you would expect, these diets are also void of processed or refined foods and limited amounts of red meat and dairy.

Whole food diets also ensure we are receiving the right macro and micronutrients to perform at our best, both mentally and physically. 

If you would like help to design a nutritional plan that suits your busy and active lifestyle, reach out and connect with us for an obligation free consultation. We have recently been awarded Vancouver’s top personal trainers for the third year in a row, and are dedicated to improving the holistic health of our clients. 

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About Turnfit Personal Trainers

Turnfit Personal Trainers is founded by David Turnbull or “Coach David” – an experienced and successful Personal Trainer who strives to build happier, healthier lives every day.

With a focus on holistic health, we pride ourselves on making a difference and were recently awarded the 2019 Top Choice Award for Personal Trainer in Vancouver.

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