Food and Mood: Nutritional Psychology
Do you know how intimately your food and mood are connected?
On the therapy chair, we focus primarily on your state of mind when assessing your mental health. We might look at your values, desires, relationships, sources of stress and other components of your cognitive ecosystem.
To look at food and nutrition, you would ordinarily see a nutritionist or dietician, or perhaps a gastroenterologist, rather than a Psychologist.
And yet, the food you eat plays a huge role in your mood and your overall wellbeing.
The Gut-Brain Connection
In your gastrointestinal tract, there are over 100 million nerve cells that line the passage from esophagus to rectum. This is called the Enteric Nervous System.
The enteric nervous system transmits messages back and forth from your brain. Although its primary function is to control digestion and nutrient absorption, its capacity for communicating is profound.
So much so that upsets in the gut can trigger emotional responses, and emotional challenges can trigger physiological issues in the gut!
Gastrointestinal Irritation May Trigger Mood Changes
In multiple scientific studies, results have reported a correlation between a healthy gut microbiome (that is, having a good balance of healthy gut bacteria) and psychological wellbeing.
Conversely, gut irritation is often linked to mood and mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety.
Your brain and gut are so closely linked, that often treating one will help treat the other.
According to this study:
It has been known for some time that the microbiota has a great impact on human mental wellbeing. A positive effect of probiotics has been reported on depression and anxiety.
Aspects of Mental Health Affected by Diet
Food doesn’t just affect your mood.
Your diet, and therefore the health of your gut, may have an influence on:
- Cognition (ie, speed and quality of thought and perception)
- Stress response
- Psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety
- Propensity for more severe psychological conditions such as autism, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and ADHD.
Research into the gut-brain axis and what it means for mental health (as well as many other diseases, which manifest in the body) is a prominent area of scientific research that is gaining more traction as time goes on.
Your Food and Mood: What to Eat to Promote Mental Wellness
Now that we know that a healthy gut contributes strongly to mental health, the best diet for overall wellbeing is one that promotes a healthy microbiome.
That means eating food that the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut LOVE, and avoiding foods that encourage ‘bad’ gut bacteria.
These foods are widely considered excellent for gut health (good mood foods):
Fermented foods – contain probiotics and prebiotics
- Fermented vegetables like kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles
- Fermented drinks like kombucha, kefir
- Apple cider vinegar
- Plain natural yoghurt
- Aged cheeses with live active cultures
- Probiotic supplements (high quality)
Fish and seafood
Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, known to promote good gut health and mental health.
The best kinds of fish are wild caught rather than farmed, and locally sourced.
Great options that are especially high in omega-3s include salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies and oysters.
Nuts and seeds – high in omega-3s
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Flax seeds
- Hemp seeds
Seaweed and algae – high in omega-3s
Vegetables, fruit and legumes
Having a wholefood-rich diet that heavily features these nourishing plant foods is one of the best ways to encourage a healthy gut. A good rule of thumb with veggies is to try to eat the rainbow in a day.
Foods to Avoid
To avoid encouraging too much ‘bad’ gut bacteria, the foods to avoid are the ones you’d expect.
Everything that we are told is unhealthy is most likely bad for your gut, and bad for your mood:
- Highly processed packaged foods
- Foods containing aspartame or other artificial sweeteners
- Foods high in added sugar
- Fruit juice (eat the whole fruits instead)
- Foods high in preservatives, colours, flavours and chemical additives
- Excessive amounts of meat, dairy and eggs
- Deep fried foods
- Medications (especially antibiotics) and drugs (not foods per se, but very costly to gut health – these are sometimes necessary but to be minimised wherever possible or safe to do so).
Nutritional Psychology: The Role of Therapy in Diet, Weight Loss and Healthy Eating
Therapy is an amazing tool to help you if you have challenges with food, diet or weight.
Our therapists are experienced with clients facing issues such as:
- Difficulty losing weight
- Body image issues
- Difficulties related to gastrointestinal discomfort
- Food addiction
- Compulsive eating
Learn more about our weight loss counselling, and book your appointment with a Bondi Psychologist today.