Can eating more salmon help you smile more? Does consuming more fruit make life more fun? Does eating more lettuce lead to more laughs?
Increasingly, the answer is “yes.”
A growing body of research supports the idea that good nutrition is important for your physical health and your mental well-being. For decades we’ve known that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, beans, and nuts can improve heart health, lower cholesterol, and reduce blood pressure. Now we’re learning more about how those same foods can help boost your mental health too.
Mind your gut
Research findings center on the “brain-gut connection,” how your gastrointestinal (GI) tract is like a second brain that communicates with the brain in your head. It starts with your microbiome, trillions of tiny organisms (called microbes) that live in your GI tract. Each of us has a unique microbiome that is based on our DNA and shaped by what we eat.
The microbes help digest the food you eat. They also create chemicals that work as messengers in your body. Two of those chemicals produced in your gut – dopamine, and serotonin -- help regulate your mood and emotion. So, it makes sense that what you put in your stomach would affect how your microbiome works and that in turn could impact how the rest of your body functions and feels. This brain-gut connection is a two-way street; for instance, stress can also cause changes in your microbiome.
One 2017 study highlights the food-mood connection. It compared two groups of clinically depressed people who normally ate diets high in sugary foods, processed meats, and snacks, and low in vegetables and fruits. One group continued eating their usual diet and got social support – not diet information – from a research assistant. The other group worked with a dietitian and switched to eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, seafood, and lean meats. All participants continued taking their prescription medications. After three months, depression scores for the group eating a healthy diet greatly improved. Almost one-third were no longer classified as depressed. The other group experienced an 8% improvement, likely due to getting extra social support.
Good mood foods
There’s much more to learn and understand about the connection between our brains and stomachs, but the research is promising. And food is only one factor in the complex system that regulates how we feel and function. As we continue to learn more, there’s nothing to lose – and probably a lot to gain -- if you want to focus on choosing mood-boosting foods. Here’s a quick list of foods that contain antidepressant nutrients connected to the prevention and treatment of depression. Think about how you could add more of them into your diet. Be sure to talk with your doctor about what diet is best for you.
Eating a nutritious balanced diet that supports your body and your mind takes a little education, a bit of planning, and some prep but the results are worth it. If you or a loved one needs support getting balanced nutrition in a convenient way, check out the huge selection of Mom’s Meals® refrigerated, nutritionally tailored meals that are delivered right to your home.