The impact of eating habits on our mental health

The impact of eating habits on our mental health
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Sometimes we do have the tendency to think that our bad mood, joy, uncertainty, wellbeing or worries start in our heads. But the thing is that we as people also have hands, legs, a heart, genitals, lungs, a gut and lots more. Every part of our body is connected, so is the brain with our gut. Almost everybody has experienced nausea before giving a presentation, or didn’t want to eat after a fight with his/her beloved one.  But how it is connected?

The gut connects with the brain in two ways: physically and chemically. Physically it connects directly by the vagus nerve. Chemically the biggest role of connection plays the hormones and neurotransmitters that send messages. The chemical messages that pass between the gut and the brain can be affected by the bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the gut called the “gut microbiome”. The bacteria, viruses and fungi can be beneficial, harmless or harmful. So once they are harmful they affect our digestive organs’ as well as our mental state.

            Researchers have found a relationship between a bad psychological state and malnutrition, which consists of consuming a lot of sugar, bad fats etc. Sometimes our stress levels can even get much higher because of undiagnosed food intolerance for some kinds of products. For example the link between depression and healthy eating was investigated in A. Ruusunen’s research (2013). The results showed that the group that was eating a healthy diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, berries, whole grain products, poultry, fish and low-fat cheese was associated with a lower onset of depressive symptoms and a lower risk of depression during observation. In addition, three years of the research into such a lifestyle change also showed reduced incidence of depression. On the contrary, the predisposition to unhealthy food: sausages, processed meat products, sugars in desserts and snacks, sweet drinks, artificial foods, cakes, baked and processed potatoes are associated with an increased incidence of more severe symptoms of depression.

On the other hand, it is important to notice that according to Henrik Ennart, the author of “Happy Food”, we cannot ignore medical help and only transform our eating habits – that would be too easy. Research shows that 30-40% of people diagnosed with depression disorder achieved minimizing their anxiety symptoms by consuming healthy food. The others still need some medical help and it can’t be ignored. 

Still, how can we improve our every day meal and improve our wellbeing? It would be a good idea to add food products into our daily diets that help the good bacteria and fungi that live in our guts to grow, called prebiotics. They are high in fibre and work best when eaten raw. Examples of foods that contain prebiotics are chicory roots, dandelion greens, artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus and bananas. We can also help out our gut by eating probiotics – food that has live beneficial bacteria in it. For example, yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, kombucha.

So, let’s eat healthy to boost our wellbeing!

Sources:

Ruusunen, A. (2013). Diet and Depression. An Epidemiological Study. Dissertation in Health Sciences. University of Eastern Finland.  Retrieved from: http://epublications.uef.fi/pub/urn_isbn_978-952-61-1201-5/urn_isbn_978-952-61-1201-5.pdf

Ekstedt, N. & Ennart, H. (2018). Happy Food: How eating well can lift your mood and bring you joy. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Mussell, M, et al. Gastrointestinal symptoms in primary care: prevalence and association with depression and anxiety. (2008). Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 64(6): 605-612.

Posserud I, Agerforz P, Ekman R, Björnsson ES, Abrahamsson H, Simrén M. Altered visceral perceptual and neuroendocrine response in patients with irritable bowel syndrome during mental stress. (2004). Gut. Aug 1;53(8):1102-8.

Semeco, A. (2016, June 8). The 19 Best Prebiotic Foods you should eat. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/19-best-prebiotic-foods

Palsdottir, H. (2018, August 28). 11 Probiotic Foods That Are Super Healthy. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-super-healthy-probiotic-foods

Katryna Spangelyte is an intern at Willingness Hub as part of the Willingness International Summer Internship Programme 2019. She is a 4th year student of general psychology at Vilnius University, Lithuania.

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