Nutritional psychiatry, why is that a thing?

Our bodies need food and water, that is a given. Our brain, being an important part of the body is therefore influenced by what we eat. Furthermore, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood[1].

Studies have found that what you eat can make certain conditions worse. You may think intuitively about obesity and diabetes but it can make your depression worse too.

Before, I mean way before I fell ill, I had (and still have) a great interest in nutrition and what it can do. Managing, what you bring in into the body can support and help you. Sadly you cannot I repeat – cannot – eat your depression away. When you experience signs of being depressed, you should also consult a professional and take care of yourself the best way you can.

Back to food and mood.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain[2]. It is said that serotonin also influences your gastrointestinal tract[3]. That would be the same serotonin that circulates in your brain, that is also located in the gut. See the connection here? Bacteria in the gut also activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain. There is anatomical and physiologic two-way communication between the gut and brain via the vagus nerve. The gut-brain axis offers us a greater understanding of the connection between diet and disease, including depression and anxiety[4].

When you read up about the more healthy (thus the more traditional) diets like the Mediterranean and the traditional Japanese diet, you may have learned that the risk of depression is lower in the general population following those diets.

Use logic to keep healthy.

What is the more healthy approach? I know that books and books and even more books are being written about health and food. They prescribe (try to sell) you what you should and shouldn’t eat. Examples here being low carb, keto, fruit diet, 5 groups plan, the blood group diet and so on. I’m not dismissive to all of them and if it feels right for your body to follow a food plan, please do what is good for you.

My very personal opinion is that you should apply the logic already given to you. We really know what is good and what isn’t. There is no magical cure for fitness and health except for knowing what goes in and out of your body. We are thought in kindergarten to snack on an apple and that cookies should be more of an exception.

The common determinator in the more traditional diets mentioned earlier contains a daily intake of fresh vegetables, fruits and (unprocessed) grains. You can add fish and seafood but don’t eat too much of lean meat and dairy. I need to add that the source of your food and the way it’s processed is also of importance here. Yoghurt that is full fat can contain less sugars than its ‘light’ brother. Lean meat from the supermarket (meant for mass consumption) will be possibly worse for you than red meat that you get straight from the farmer.

Eat like in the ‘old days’. You can imagine what is good and what isn’t. We have that shared knowledge.

Just some common sense …

  1. Eat your food as it presents itself in nature, or choose the option closest to it. To eat an apple is a good example instead of baking an apple cake.
  2. Be sure to move enough to get those bowel movements going.
  3. Eat with variation. Try to switch from regular bread (wheat bread that would be for most of us) and try spelt or rye. Spelt is an older form of wheat and approaches the wheat we used to eat in the early days. Wheat that is used now is more processed than it was before.
  4. Reduce your sugar intake and eat enough fiber.
  5. Adding fermented foods such as kefir (unsweetened), sauerkraut, or kimchi can be helpful to maintain a healthy gut.

You can’t eat yourself out of a depression but the right nutrients can support you.

Diet and depression.

A recent study [5] outlines an Antidepressant Food Scale, which lists 12 antidepressant nutrients related to the prevention and treatment of depression. Some of the foods containing these nutrients are oysters, mussels, salmon, watercress, spinach, romaine lettuce, cauliflower, and strawberries. I’ve put the numbers with foods below, so you can check it out, if you are interested.

I am going to eat a little more of those plants recommended because I believe that all small bits do help. A better diet can help, but it’s only one part of treatment. It’s important to note that just like you cannot exercise out of a bad diet, you also cannot eat your way out of feeling depressed or anxious.

Is nutrition also something you are interested in? Have you noticed improvement in your mood or mental health and you think its related to food? Let me know in the comments and share the knowledge!

Source: Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression.

Further reads, notes and references.

[1] Online article. (2015). Health Harvard. Nutritional Psychiatry. Your brain on food.

[2] Nutritional Psychiatry: Your brain on food.

[3] Article on Wikimedia. Serotonin in the digestive tract.

[4] Online article on Health Harvard. Gut feelings. How food affects your mood.

[5] World Journal of Psychiatry. (2018). LaChance, L. Ramsay, D. Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression.

17 thoughts on “Nutritional psychiatry, why is that a thing?

  1. I think our choice of food has a huge effect on our emotional and physical well-being. There’s a lot of truth in the statement: You are what you eat.
    Also, I really love the balanced approach you have adopted in your post: “You should apply the logic already given to you. We really know what is good and what isn’t.” That pretty much says it all!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an interesting read! I am not a believer of fad diets so trying to weave my path through the information overload we have regarding nutrition but it was good to know how it can help our mental state. Thank you for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can definitely feel the effect of what I eat on my mood and energy level. If I have a lot of projects that I want to get done, I’m especially careful to avoid processed sugar and wheat because they bring on such an unshakeable brain fog that I know I won’t get anything done. And yet, it’s always a bit of a guessing game. Sometimes those processed foods seem to balance something out in my system or they feed deeper need for self-care. The trick is remembering to evaluate any urge I get for a sweet treat carefully. Otherwise, I’d just end up eating cake all the time. 😁

    By the way, I nominated you for the Original Outstanding Blogger Award!


  4. I’ve never feel better than I did when I neglected the mid aisles of the grocery stores only buying produce and dairy/meats. I began making most things from scratch even grinding my own flour. I look forward to eating this way again but now with 4 kids It gets a little harder for me to bypass my laziness and go for the frozen pizza. Very good insight about food is mood.

    Liked by 1 person

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