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Does our diet influence how we feel?

Ann Gavin

Food represents so much to our culture. Turkey is synonymous with Thanksgiving, ice cream and watermelon with summer and chicken noodle soup when we are ill. We use food to celebrate beginnings, milestones, and ends. What we eat may do more than just fuel our body. Recent research has shown the gut has its own nervous system, which sends information to the brain via the vagus nerve. (Ross, 2013) The vagus nerve is what makes you feel queasy when you are nervous or stressed. Just as the brain impacts the gut, what we put in our gut can impact the functioning of the brain. Our brain is active 24/7 and a “rainbow diet” rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins can help to
improve overall mood and general feelings of happiness; it can also reduce symptoms of depression (Chawla, 2018).

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. The gastrointestinal tract makes 95% of your serotonin. This may be why we crave certain foods when we are sad and why food impacts how we feel. (Selhub, 2015). There are small bodies of research that show foods and supplements can have a positive impact on mood and mental health. Foods high in tryptophan, vitamin D and zinc have shown promise in helping with depression and anxiety (Harbottle, 2011). More rigorous studies are needed to help discover the way food interacts with the gut and the brain.

We know the majority of common mental health problems (anxiety and depression to name a few) begin in adolescence. Most adolescents pay little attention to their diet and often eat more processed and sugary foods. Could this diet be a contributing factor to the rising cases of depression and anxiety in young adults? More research is needed to verify if an improved diet would have a long term impact (Harbottle, 2011).

Health professionals often overlook the importance of diet when working with patients with anxiety and depression (Walsh, 2011). Food can function as medicine. Adding foods high in omega-3s, B-vitamins and antioxidants, can improve the functioning of the brain as well as improve mood (Walsh, 2011). Perhaps people who are experiencing anxiety and depression could try cutting out soda and processed foods for one week and replace some of those foods with fresh
vegetables, fruits, whole grains, poultry or fish. Science is learning more about our digestion and its impact all the time. More studies are necessary to discover why and how food impacts the brain. Perhaps one day we can use food to combat
depression and anxiety rather than pharmaceuticals.

Chawla, G. (2018). Boosting mental health through dietary intake. Indian Journal
of Health & Wellbeing, 9(2), 312–313.
Harbottle, L. (2011). Nutrition and mental health: The importance of diet in
depression. British Journal of Wellbeing, 2 (7), 19-22.
Ross, C. MD. (2013, January 29). Healthy gut healthy mind: 5 foods to improve
mental health. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from
Selhub, E. MD. (2020, March 31). Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food.
Retrieved November 15, 2020, from
Walsh, R. (2011). Lifestyle and mental health. American Psychologist, 66 (7),
579-592. doi:10.1037/a0021769

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