Have you ever felt depressed after an evening of binging on junk and Netflix?
You may be sad about the lost time when you have a mounting to-do list, but that’s probably not the only reason you’re feeling down. Food is fuel, and as such, it can have an immediate impact on the way your body runs.
Imagine if you put low-grade petrol in a car that requires premium. You’d notice almost instantly that something wasn’t quite right. It’s not as if your car would break down, but it would be just a bit off-kilter.
The real problems come in when your diet consists mostly of unhealthy foods. And we’re not just worried about diabetes or heart disease. Over time, the food you eat can severely impact your mental health too.
When it comes to your mental health, it’s not necessarily about that night you downed an entire box of Jaffa Cakes in one sitting. It’s about whether your brain is getting enough of the right nutrients to keep it running in tip-top shape.
The gut-brain connection
You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to understand how food impacts your brain chemistry. At least, not at its most basic level.
You simply have to understand a bit about how serotonin works in the brain.
Serotonin is a brain chemical, also known as a neurotransmitter, that helps regulate sleep, appetite and mood. It also helps to inhibit pain. Interestingly enough, about 95 percent of serotonin is produced in the gut. Scientists are learning that the gut is responsible for more than the simple act of digestion. In fact, there are about a hundred million nerve cells found in the lining of the intestines.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, your gut bacteria is responsible for helping to maintain your mood. This is because the nerve cells and serotonin found in your gut are influenced by the bacteria that are also found here.
Regardless of your diet, your gut will contain both good and bad bacteria. The good are responsible for protecting the gut lining and providing a protective layer against toxins. This can keep inflammation to a minimum and improve how you absorb nutrients from your food.
Probiotic supplements are one way to restore the balance of gut bacteria, but a healthy diet is also crucial. At least one study has associated the standard Western diet with depression that’s not as prevalent in cultures that eat a more traditional diet.
Good versus bad bacteria
It may seem awfully judgmental, but we refer to gut bacteria as either good or bad based on its effect in the body. Bad bacteria have the potential to cause illness. We all have the bad guys in our intestinal tract, but the key is to keep their population low.
Bad bacteria come from external sources, such as food, toxins and stress. If you find yourself feeling depressed and getting sick often, the bad bacteria is likely gaining a foothold. But don’t panic (stress will only make it worse). You can turn things around with food.
Nutrients that contribute to good mental health
We’ve learned that having mostly good bacteria in the gut can help you better absorb nutrients. But exactly how does that equate to better moods? It’s all about absorbing more of the nutrients that play a large role in mental health. These include magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin D.
If you’re looking to turn things around, start with a detox from everything processed. Add loads of fresh vegetables that are rich in mood-boosting nutrients. You don’t have to get too technical. Just add in some of these foods that are beneficial during detoxification:
- Leafy greens
- Fermented foods
When you start paying attention to your diet and gut health, the fog of depression is likely to fade. It may take longer for some than others, but it’s a worthwhile journey. To our ever-increasing good health!
Trevor McDonald is a freelance content writer who has a passion for writing. He’s written a variety of education, travel, health, and lifestyle articles for many different companies. In his free time, you can find him running with his dog, playing his guitar or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.
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