Research has shown that a diet high in processed food is a risk factor for depression. So, as much as our addiction to salty, sweet, convenient foods can satisfy cravings, it appears to be negatively influencing our mental health.
Our gut is nicknamed the “second brain.” The number of neurons in our GI tract is greater than those in our spinal cord! Our nervous system is constantly monitoring and influenced by what goes on in there, so what we eat certainly matters.
What should we be eating to better our brains?
Most people are aware of the benefits of probiotics on overall health and studies emphasise their benefit on mental health in particular. One study has shown that just one month of probiotics decreases feelings of depression, anxiety, and anger.
To get more of these gut-loving little guys into your diet try some of the following:
Probiotic pills: Consider investing in a brand that has several different strains to maximise benefit. Certain brands are even fridge-free safe.
Fermented vegetables: Sauerkraut has an appealing tangy taste which is great company for mashed or roasted vegetables, everyone’s favourite avo on toast and even salads.
Kombucha: a fermented, lightly fizzy drink made from tea. It comes in many flavours and is a healthy, low-sugar drink to have with lunch. Aim for brands like Remedy Kombucha which don’t sneak in unnecessary sugars.
Cashew cheese: It sounds funny, but it’s a delicious party-favourite dip to introduce at your next get together!
Check out our article on the vagus nerve to learn more about how our gut bacteria communicates with our brains.
Probiotics aside, it’s time that we give credit to the fruits and vegetables in our diet.
A 22-week study conducted in a corporate environment demonstrated that eating a diet made up of whole plant-foods—vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes—increased workplace productivity. This was due to an overall increase in the participants’ general and mental health. A second study found that employee depression, anxiety, and fatigue dropped in response to a similar change to whole-food plant-based options in the work cafeteria.
What is it about these whole plant foods that makes them so great for our mental health?
Here’s a bite-sized explanation:
Antioxidants: Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, which help remove free radicals from our body. Free radicals are associated with poor mental health states such as depression, as well as with other health problems. The more antioxidants you eat, the more you lower your risk. Eat antioxidant rich foods such as berries and tomatoes to up your daily amount.
Folate: Low folate blood levels are associated with depression. Spinach and legumes are high in this nutrient—so eat your beans and greens!
Vitamin C: This vitamin plays a role in the creation of dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter in our body. In studies, those with adequate vitamin C level showed less depression. Just 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day is enough to get all you need.
As convenient as it may be, supplemental forms of these do not seem to be as effective, according to research comparing pills to whole-food form. It seems 5-a-day is great advice after all. Grab an apron and get cooking—a better mood might just be a meal away.