“You are what you eat.”
An often heard aphorism that is a familiar entry in the lexicon of health and wellness. Like many aphorisms its strength is lost in its repetition and mere lip service. I frequently work with patients who have symptoms of depression. One of the initial topics we explore is their relationship to food and mood.
Our Changing Diets
Our collective diet has changed immensely in the last 100 years. The form of the staples used to sustain us at the turn of the 20th century are often difficult to find in the aisles of many of today’s grocery stores. Gone is the heartiness of the non hybridized whole grain and in its place we are left with a myriad of ingredients.
Many of these are synthetic in origin and we have no idea what the long term effects of ingesting these lab made chemicals will be. There is ample evidence that these compounds lead to dysregulation of our mood and emotions and also wreak havoc on our physical bodies.
Your relationship with food
A starting point with most patients is to address their relationship with food. Beyond what and where do they eat, it is important to ask why do they make the choices they do. A person who is feeling “stuck” at work or at home will elect to eat foods that make them feel better in the short term in order to transport themselves to a better place emotionally.
Carbohydrates often fill this role and do so successfully. The issue that develops is that a rapid rise in blood glucose leads to a certain crescendo. This not only leads to mood instability, it also fosters craving to replace the transient high.
Part of the solution to a yo-yoing of mood and blood sugar is to change our expectations of food. While we shouldn’t sacrifice taste, it is equally important we are obtaining the nutrients we need to maintain a healthy and balanced mind and body. A whole foods based diet rich in fresh produce is essential for optimum emotional health.
Foods rich in tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, are a good idea. Examples include almonds, peanuts, bananas, beans, cheeses, free range chicken, turkey and eggs, oily fish low on the food chain(think herring, mackerel, sardines, and wild caught salmon), whole milk and yogurt. Many of these are also rich in calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B which also aid in serotonin production.
Essential fatty acids are a must in mood regulation and combined with psychotherapy and exercise often yield better results than psychoparmacology alone. The oily fish listed above are an excellent source as well as sea algae(spirulina and chlorella), walnuts and flax seed oil.
Probiotics to improve your mood
A final ingredient to improve mood modulation and wellness are probitoics and digestive enzymes. The vast majority, over 90%, of the serotonin in the body is produced in the gut. As we absorb nutrients through our intestinal lining, receptors are activated which lead to serotonin production. D
igestive enzymes help with the absorptive capacity of the villi that make up the lining. The probiotics, which make up the beneficial part of our mircobiome, consist of billions of bacteria that are vital to the transformation of the food we eat into the nutrients and minerals we need.
There is a microbiome-gut-brain axis that exists that is essential in maintaining a healthy brain and body. It is important that we foster the beneficial bacteria,through high quality probiotic supplements and fermented food, in order to combat the harmful bacteria that have taken up residence after a history of eating processed foods and taking antibiotics.