Finally, more and more healthcare professionals are talking about how what we eat not only affects our physical health, but affects our mental health as well. The food we eat is digested by microbes in our gut that create neurotransmitters. 90% of serotonin is created in our gut. Eating acid-based and processed foods can create inflammation within our gut (as I've written about in my previous post about gut health) that discourages our gut to be able to send neurotransmitters, such as serotonin (ding, ding, ding!) and other mood-boosting chemicals to our brain. Our gut and our brain are in constant bi-directional communication. The gut has been labeled as our "second brain."
Essentially, food is medicine. Food is fuel. Food is a source of energy. If we are not eating nutrient-dense foods, and instead eat a high-carbohydrate, acid-based, processed diet, I guarantee you you will not feel well. Do you often feel depressed, anxious, fatigued, foggy, sluggish, unmotivated? I encourage you to take a detailed look at your diet. What you put into your body affects the way you think, feel and move. The quality of the food you eat affects the quality of your mental health.
Sugar, processed foods and gluten are known to cause inflammation within the body. Research shows that people studied who struggle with depression had 46% higher levels of C-reactive protein in their bodies -- a marker of inflammation. There is also a high prevalence of subjects (65%) with schizophrenia (along with seasonal affective disorder, depression and cognitive impairment) that have vitamin-D deficiency. An estimated 40% of Americans are deficient in vitamin B12. Deficiencies in omega fatty acids are also commonly found in those who struggle with psychiatric disorders, as well as neurodegenerative diseases.
Eat like you're feeding your brain. Because that's exactly what you're doing. Assessing clients' diets, sleep patterns and exercise (or lack thereof) are an important component of their treatment plans, along with traditional psychotherapeutic methods. It is not good practice to leave out treating every part of a person: mind, body and spirit.
To get you started, here is a quick guide of what foods to incorporate more into your diet:
Foods high in B12:
Foods high in fiber:
Foods high in vitamin D:
AND LOTS OF SUNLIGHT (we wonder why we feel more sluggish and depressed in the winter).
Foods high in folate:
dark leafy greens
Foods that are anti-inflammatory:
It is no surprise that you will see a lot of these foods show up in multiple categories. Think in line with an ancestral diet: foods that are nutrient-dense, not coming from a package. Pay attention to how you feel emotionally, mentally and physically as you make these changes. Remember: food equals mood.