One in six Australians is currently experiencing depression, anxiety or both. These individuals can achieve better mental health through the food they eat. Sceptical? I’m sure you are. But bare with me a little longer, I will explain.
Research shows that the Western diet, which is largely comprised of processed, denatured foods is linked to rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Did you know that the Western diet is also linked to poor memory function, disordered immune function and inflammation, which contributes to the development of depression?
THE GUT BRAIN AXIS: YOUR SECOND BRAIN
When we are experiencing stress out digestive system knows, we often become too nervous to eat, or experience “butterflies” in the stomach. This is why the gut is often referred to as the second brain. The enteric nervous system (or ENS) runs throughout our entire digestive tract and via over 100 million nerve cells it sends messages to the brain. Digestive diseases like IBS or Crohn’s disease have long been thought to be caused by stress or mental health disorders, but recent research suggests that causation may actually run in both directions.
This means that when we consume a Standard American/Australian Diet (appropriately called SAD) we are creating an epidemic of poor digestion; gas, bloating, pain or exhaustion after meals is commonplace. This, in turn, impacts the signals sent to the brain.
But you can take control of these signals following these basic rules:
1. AVOID TRIGGER FOODS
Most packaged items on standard grocery store shelves fit into this category. Ready-made meals, bottled sauces, and processed vegetable oils contain additives that damage our gut lining contributing to systemic inflammation, thyroid dysfunction and poor mental health.
Fatigue, brain fog, flat mood, PMS and constipation are all frequently reported symptoms of depression. Really these are signs of systemic inflammation.
To reduce this inflammation I recommend removing the following trigger foods:
Grains (including corn)
I recommend removing these foods for a minimum of 30 days to help reset your system. After this cleansing phrase pay close attention to how you feel when you begin to reintroduce these foods back into your diet.
2. GO ORGANIC
Go organic, it’s not as costly as you may think. Conventional produce contains high levels of pesticides and herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup), which are known to cause endocrine disruption, damage DNA and cause birth defects. Organic food is also fuller in flavour, so start visiting your local farmers market and get plenty of fresh organic fruit and vegetables into your shopping basket!
3. GUARD AGAINST DEFICIENCIES
It may surprise you to learn that many obese individuals are actually malnourished. Nutrient deficiencies are becoming increasingly common. This is partly due to the overuse of pesticides and herbicides, which depletes the soil used to grow our food. Factors like stress, smoking, alcohol, pharmaceuticals and environmental toxins can also deplete the body of nutrients, or prevent adequate absorption.
Western diets are commonly lacking in the following nutrients, which are essential to mood and energy regulation: B12, magnesium, zinc and EFA’s.
Supplementing with B12 has proven “among the most useful, safe, and effective” treatments for a host of psychiatric conditions.
Magnesium is considered one of the most beneficial supplements available, providing relief from ailments such as PMS, poor thyroid function, and depression.
Zinc deficiency is commonly seen in people suffering from psychiatric conditions. Zinc plays a critical role in immune system regulation, sexual health, and basic cellular repair, making it critical for good health. Our bodies cannot store zinc, which makes supplementation even more critical if adequate levels are not maintained through diet.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s)
The human brain is more than 60% fat, so consuming adequate amounts of healthy fats is critical for optimal mental health. EFA’s promote cellular regeneration, build new brain tissue, and cushion and protect neural pathways, which enables our neurotransmitters to work effectively. Despite this, more than 80% of Australians are deficient in EFA’s.
In order to combat these deficiencies, I recommend eating plenty of dark leafy greens, sprouted nuts and seeds, pastured eggs and oily wild-caught fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines.
3. RESTORE YOUR MICROBIOME
The microbiome is the community of living microorganisms living inside your digestive tract (and throughout other parts of your body as well). It is made up of trillions of cells, which continually report to the brain on the state of the body. They do this via the vagus nerve and the messages sent can contribute to the development of depression as well as other psychiatric conditions including brain disease, stroke and seizures.
Our modern lifestyle has a profound effect on our bacterial ecology. Environmental toxins, stress, denatured food and overuse of antibiotics all place a growing burden on the health of the gut, disrupting the balance of good and bad bacteria. When the microbiome becomes comprised so does the integrity of our gut wall, allowing food to bass into the bloodstream (I’m not making this up!). This drives the inflammation involved in depressive mood states.
To support the health of your microbiome I recommend consuming lots of organic fruit and vegetables and removing as many processed foods from your diet as possible. Fermented food and prebiotics are also an absolute must!
I discuss this in detail in my Gut Health Masterclass as well as the Plant-Based Living Workshop. Research has shown that probiotic supplementation is extremely effective in combating symptoms of depression, via its ability to restore microbial diversity within the gut.
5. EAT CONSCIOUSLY
Do you often eat at your desk, while processing an endless stream of emails? Do you sometimes eat standing up, too rushed to even call it a meal? When we eat unconsciously we deny our bodies the experience of nourishment. Is it any wonder that our bodies often struggle to digest food? Take time before each meal to really take in your food: look at the colours, savour the aromas, and appreciate the nourishment your meal is providing. This sends the first signals to the brain that it’s time for digestion to begin.
Let your mouth water! Saliva contains powerful enzymes that pre-digest food as you chew. Chewing slowly and thoroughly will ensure that you receive the optimum benefits of these powerful digestive juices.
Finally, promote a feeling of gratitude for what you are about to consume. The journey our food takes from farm-to-table requires several levels of sacrifice. Acknowledging the part that you and others play in the lifecycle of your food will deliver the full range of nourishment that food can provide.
If you begin to follow at least one of these 5 changes then I assure you that you experience a vast improvement in your mood state. Having personally cured depression with food and can vouch for its effectiveness. You really are what you eat after all. Make sure that you put the good stuff in!
With Love, Rose