Having read the science of nutrition for over 10 years, I can tell you that there is a strong link between food and mental health. This relationship is not causative, but cyclic. What that means is that depending on our mood, we tend to choose certain types of food. Similarly, the food we eat can have a significant impact on our mood, cognition, and overall mental well-being. Here are some food sources that impact your mental health.
- Neurotransmitters: Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that help to regulate mood, appetite, and other important functions. Many of these neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, are produced in the gut. These are the same neurotransmitters often referred to as ‘feel-good hormones,’ or the hormones released when you are love struck (wink). Eating a healthy and balanced diet that includes foods rich in amino acids, vitamins, and minerals can help to support the production of these neurotransmitters, which can improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids may also reduce symptoms of depression and improve cognitive function. Good sources of omega-3s include fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, as well as nuts and seeds, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
- Tryptophan: Our body actually uses tryptophan to produce serotonin, the same neurotransmitter that I mentioned earlier. It helps to regulate mood. Good sources of tryptophan include turkey, chicken, eggs, dairy products, soybeans, and nuts.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is also an important nutrient for mental health. Good sources of vitamin D include sunlight, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, fortified foods like milk and cereal, and supplements.
- Fermented foods: The gut is home to trillions of bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiome. These bacteria play a crucial role in regulating mood, behavior, and cognitive function. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, contain beneficial bacteria that can help to support a healthy gut microbiome. Since gut health has been linked to mental health, eating fermented foods may be beneficial for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
On the other hand, a diet that is high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats can lead to inflammation in the body, including the brain. This inflammation has been linked to an increased risk of depression and other mental health disorders.
Does addiction impact your food metabolism? Yes, unfortunately, it does.
- Alcohol addiction: Alcohol is high in calories but low in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Heavy drinking can, therefore, lead to nutrient deficiencies. Chronic alcohol use can also damage the digestive system, making it harder for the body to absorb and use nutrients. Alcohol addiction is associated with an increased risk of liver disease, which can further disrupt metabolism and nutrient absorption.
- Drug addiction: Different drugs can have different effects on nutrition and metabolism. For example, stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine can suppress appetite and lead to weight loss, while opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers can increase appetite and lead to weight gain. Chronic drug use can also damage the digestive system and interfere with the body’s ability to absorb and use nutrients.
- Nicotine addiction: Nicotine is a stimulant that can suppress appetite and increase metabolism, leading to weight loss. However, smoking also damages the lungs and cardiovascular system, making it harder for the body to use oxygen and nutrients effectively.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods can help to support better mental well-being, while a diet that is high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats can have a negative impact on mental health. It’s important for people struggling with addiction to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional to address both the addiction and any related nutritional or metabolic issues.