Eat, pray, love

by Alex Shrimpton

You are what you eat and what you eat matters! We hear that all the time but what effect our eating choices have on our mental health can be somewhat misleading as it is difficult to consider a universally healthy diet taking into account cultural factors, historical trends and a wide variety of research and different beliefs on the matter. Several systematic reviews have shown that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins can help improve overall mood and general feelings of happiness.

Our gut microbiota composition seems to have a significant impact on biological and psychological factors such as metabolism and mental states. As there seems to be a strong relationship between what we eat and our gut bacterial composition we can influence our metabolic rate and thus the amount of “energy” we have available and just as well modulate our well-being.

Although there are multitude of factors affecting our mood, our dietary choices might have a considerable impact on our microbiome which in turn affects our immune system and visceral fats which are strong determinants of mood regulation. “What is your gut feeling?” or “what does your heart say?”–  we must have heard these phrases many times as a result of associating feelings with physical organs of our body. This is not however limited to the language of poets and writers as scientific research has something to say in regard to this, too.

The gut bacteria living in our gut known as microbiome helps metabolize food, support our gut cells and aid vitamin production. These bacteria are thought to communicate with our brain and are implicated in mood regulation such as anxiety and depression. Fiber rich, fermented and low sugar foods are positively associated with good microbiome or microbiome that will contribute to reinforcing our immune system and containing visceral fat, which in turn, might all affect our mood.

More specifically there are anti-depressant foods containing omega 3 which fight against unipolar and bipolar depression and dementia. Probiotic nutrients, which contain active micro-organisms,  are ideal in regulating anxiety while polyphenols act as anti-inflammatory agents. Furthermore prebiotic foods, which induce the growth of already existing micro-organisms in our body, are generally good for our physical health which in turn can relate to our general well-being and mental health.

If we extend well-being and mental health beyond the pure nutritional compounds of food we can include the nurturing aspect that revolves around food such as its preparation and sharing with our loved ones. Whether we are sitting together with friends, family members or colleagues the atmosphere we create around the kitchen table, a camp fire or simply in the canteen socializing is the ritual that brings us together. It is not only what we eat but how we spend time together, talking to each other, sharing stories or at times complaining about adversities of life but if we can also be grateful and thankful or “praying” as so to speak, nutrition in a broader sense, can be considered a pillar of our well-being.