Hannah Hopper

We’ve all heard that the food we eat impacts the way that our bodies feel, but according to recent research the food we consume can also impact our mind and emotions, and in some instances poor nutrition has been linked to depression. According to Dr. Eva Selhub of Harvard Health Publishing, certain foods that are high in sugar and processed fat are harmful for the brain, while foods like fruits, vegetables, unprocessed grains, and seafood are full of nutrition
and are healthy for the brain.

There are studies that show when people start taking probiotics (supplements that have healthy bacteria that can be found naturally in foods like kimchi and pickles), their feelings of stress, their anxiety levels, and their overall mental outlook on life improves when compared to other people who did not start taking probiotics (Selhub, 2018).

The hippocampus is located deep within the brain and is responsible for learning, memory, mood regulation, and is specifically associated with depression. It is also one of the only areas in your brain that helps in the growth and development of nervous tissue. In adults who have depression, this hippocampus region of the brain is smaller than those who do not have depression. But sadly, research has shown that the Western diet is associated with a smaller hippocampus, which could account for the high rates of depression in the United States (Jacka et al., 2015).

While there are many aspects of depression that are not associated with diet, the food you consume is one piece to the puzzle in understanding your mood and specifically with depression.

Some of these research findings show that there are things within your control that you can do to impact your overall mood and feelings. If you do decide to change certain parts of your diet, take out items one at a time to avoid experiencing a slew of cravings all at once. This study and others suggest diet and exercise to be extremely important in impacting overall mood as well as emotional regulation.

Some diet tips include:

  • Notice how you and your body feel after eating meals both at the time you eat and the day after. See which foods make you feel sluggish and which give you an extra boost of energy (aside from caffeine).
  • For several weeks, try cutting out all processed foods and unnatural sugars in your diet. Notice how you feel and if there is an impact on your overall mood.
  • Add pickled foods like kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut or miso to your diet. Many Japanese and Korean diets include pickled foods so try finding a local Japanese or Korean store that might have more choices of pickled foods.
  • Try a Mediterranean diet for two to three weeks. This diet consists of high amounts of fish, olive oil, legumes, and vegetables, and a low consumption non-fish meats. If you have never tried this before then you may be surprised at how different your body feels after only a few short weeks!
  • When reintroducing different foods into your diet, do it one at a time and notice the way that you feel as each food item is added back to your diet. Try to limit foods that cause you to feel sluggish or moody.
  • The good news is that there are natural and easy ways to begin taking control of your emotional health by beginning to change your diet, or simply adding a few foods to your current diet. But if you find yourself struggling with depression or mood-related issues, contact Symmetry Counseling’s highly skilled team of therapists at 312-578-9990 to receive extra support with whatever you’re going through.

References

Jacka, F. N., Cherbuin, N., Anstey, K. J., Sachdev, P., & Butterworth, P. (2015). Western diet is associated with a smaller hippocampus: a longitudinal investigation. BMC medicine, 13, 215. doi:10.1186/s12916-015-0461-x
Selhub, Eva. “Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food.” Harvard Health Blog, 5 Apr. 2018, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626.