Have you ever heard the saying “You are what you eat”? This usually refers to eating healthy foods to look and feel good. We often associate food and diet with physical health and fitness. However, diet influences much more than how your body looks and the number on a scale. It plays an important role in what happens inside of your body, not just outside.
Energy for Your Cells
Every single cell of your body requires a constant supply of energy to function. This energy is obtained from the foods that you eat. Without proper nourishment, your cells can become damaged and in the worst of cases, destroyed.
As the National Library of Medicine states, “Cells are the basic building blocks of all living things.” They are responsible for every process that goes on inside of our bodies. Imagine how important it is to maintain a healthy diet for our well-being.
Fueling Your Brain, Not Just Your Body
As noted earlier, food powers every single cell of your body. That includes your brain cells. Dr. Eva Selhub speaks thoroughly about this on the Harvard Health Publishing website. She explains that the brain is busy 24/7. It sends messages out to keep all bodily functions like those of the heart and breathing working even while you are asleep.
Your brain is constantly working on keeping you alive. Therefore, it requires a constant source of fuel. The quality of the food you eat makes all of the difference for your brain and body. Bad fuel quality (like heavily processed or refined foods) can damage and impair the brain. This not only affects the way your body works but also the way you think and feel.
Some of the foods that help your brain function at its best, prevent oxidative stress (free radicals that can damage cells), and diminish inflammation include:
- Foods high in vitamins: Leafy greens, fish, nuts, avocados, starchy vegetables, and fruits
- Foods rich in minerals: Seeds, nuts, shellfish, eggs, beans, avocados, and cruciferous vegetables
- Foods high in antioxidants: Legumes, fruits, nuts, dark leafy greens, vegetables, spices, and herbs
Link Between Food and Mental Health
An article by the BMJ concludes that poor nutrition can be a cause of a low mood and that improving one’s diet is good for both physical and mental health. Although more studies are needed to fully understand how diet affects mental health, it has been shown that certain foods and western diets have detrimental effects on the gut microbiome, immune activation, and inflammation. These effects negatively impact a person’s mood and mental health.
Depression and Anxiety
Eating a diet rich in fruits, nuts, legumes, unprocessed whole grains, and vegetables (like the Mediterranean diet for example) is directly associated with better mental and physical health. These types of diets are also linked with a decreased risk of depression and anxiety. Studies have shown that they can lower your risk of depression and anxiety by up to 35%. The following are some of the mechanisms by which healthy and nutrient-rich foods can help keep mental health disorders at bay.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, pain levels, and even sleeping patterns. About 95% of it is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, your digestive system not only helps with food absorption and digestion but also with mood regulation.
Many unprocessed foods are fermented. These act as natural probiotics. An example of a food that is a good source of probiotics is yogurt. Good bacteria can decrease inflammation, increase energy levels, and improve your mood. Recent studies have found that the consumption of probiotics may even reduce symptoms of depression. It is hypothesized that the gut microbiome plays a role in processing and regulating emotions in the human brain.
Anti-inflammatory agents significantly reduce symptoms of depression. The Mediterranean diet and the foods it includes provide anti-inflammatory effects. This means that following a healthy diet can prevent depressive episodes and depression symptoms associated with high inflammation within the body. They can also minimize and prevent the aches and pains resulting from inflammatory responses.
Diet as a Treatment for Depression
The Antioxidants Journal from MDPI posted an open access article discussing how what we eat directly links to our mood. The studies showed that a balanced and nutritious diet plays a significant role in the prevention and clinical treatment of depression. They concluded and stated the three following hypotheses about the effects of diet on depression:
- Diets that include anti-inflammatory foods may relieve inflammatory cytokine secretion, which relieves inflammation in the brain and helps to relieve depression
- Diets with antioxidative properties help to decrease oxidative stress in the brain, which decreases depression symptoms
- Healthy diets with the enhancing ability of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) help to improve the symptoms of people struggling with depression
Importance of Access to Nourishing Food
Good nutrition is essential for the maintenance of a healthy mind and body. A large number of people worldwide suffers from diabetes, anxiety, depression, and so many more diseases. When you see the evidence of the impact that “clean” eating can have on your overall health, improving your nutritional intake should not be a question. Daily consumption of foods that will ensure a better quality of life shouldn’t be a luxury only a few have access to. Ensuring our health should be a daily practice and a way of life. Having access to these foods should be a right and priority for every child and adult all over the world.