The standard American diet or “SAD” is packed full of processed foods, sugar and meat. Only 12 percent of our calories come from plants, and half of those come from french fries. We know that most people coming to our blog are taking steps to become healthier, so this might not describe your diet at all. If not, that’s great. If so, it’s not your fault: it’s the way the culture is built. But there are plenty of steps you can take to remedy it and so many reasons to!
Most of us know that the SAD diet lacks nutrients and can lead to disease. What you might not realize is that it can also damage your mood and worsen depression. Studies have found that people who eat diets high in sweets, fried foods, refined carbs, processed meat and high-fat dairy reported symptoms of depression far more frequently than people who ate diets filled with fish, fruits and vegetables. That isn’t proof that the food caused the depression, but they were linked.
Some researchers believe that it all starts in your gut, like so many other things in health. The bacteria in your gut impacts hormones like serotonin and dopamine. While junk food can give you short rushes, healthy food can keep you on a more even keel.
“The distinctive linking between your diet and emotions tends to stem from the close association between your brain and your gastrointestinal tract, which is often termed as the second brain,” said Dr. Siddhant Bhargava. “Your GI tract is home to billions of microbes that impact the fabrication of neurotransmitters that carry messages from the gut to the brain. Consumption of wholesome food encourages the growth of good bacteria, which in turn positively affects the generation of these chemical substances. When neurotransmitter production is in good shape, your brain tends to receive these constructive messages loud and clear, and your emotions replicate it. When you switch to a diet of healthy food, you are setting yourself up for lesser mood fluxes, an overall happier outlook, and an enhanced ability to focus.”
Instead of reaching for processed snacks, go for nuts or yogurt. Replace white rice with beans. Swap white bread from whole grain. And cut back on sugar. Not only will your blood sugar thank you, but your mood and mental health will as well.
Of course, dietary changes cannot be used in place of medical advice. If you are struggling with depression or mental health, reach out to your doctor. Your diet may contribute, but you may need to make other changes or need more help. Your doctor is there for you, and support is available. Diet is a crucial building block in mental health, but it’s not the only component.