Our physical health is significantly affected by the foods we consume. But did you know that food can have a direct impact on our mental and emotional well-being too? The link between diet and emotions stems from the close relationship between our brain and our gastrointestinal tract, often called the “second brain”. Here’s how the food we eat can affect our mood and mental health. Gut-Brain Connection Your gut is home to billions of bacteria that influence the production of chemical substances. These substances constantly carry messages from the gut to the brain. Two common examples of these are dopamine and serotonin. It’s believed that 90 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, a mood stabiliser, is produced by gut bacteria. It helps regulate sleep, pain, appetite, mood, and emotion. While the gut is able to influence emotional behaviour in the brain, the brain can also alter the type of bacteria living in the gut. Now that we understand the gut-brain connection, we can appreciate the old adage “You are what you eat!”. So, what foods do you need to eat to maintain a healthy mind and body? How Nutrition Affects Mental Health Eating nutritionally-dense and fibre-rich foods promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut. This positively affects the production of chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. When production is optimal, your brain receives these positive messages loud and clear, and your mental state can reflect it. When your diet consists of nutrient-rich foods, you’re likely to have fewer mood swings. You will also have an improved ability to focus. Eating nutritious foods may also help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Foods such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, whole grains, beans, legumes, milk products, seafood and lean meats and eggs along with nuts are packed with beneficial nutrients. These foods provide the fuel your brain needs 24/7 to stay healthy and active while functioning at its best. Mindful and Intuitive Eating One of the most powerful steps you can take toward eating for your mental health is mindful and intuitive eating. Pay close attention to how various foods and beverages affect the way you feel. Paying attention to how you feel when you eat, and what you eat, is one of the first steps in listening to your body which consequently results in eating well-balanced meals.

Intuitive eating is learning how to turn out external messaging and listen and respond to your body’s own signals. Trust yourself and listen to your body’s cues of hunger and satiety. This will help to boost your self-confidence and in turn boost your mental health.

If you find that you overeat when stressed, it may be helpful to find a way to stop what you’re doing. When the urge to eat arises, write down your feelings. By doing this, you may discover what’s really bothering you. If you undereat, it may help to schedule five or six smaller meals instead of three large ones.

By becoming aware of your food habits, you can better explore the reasons behind them and put in place strategies to change them. What you eat will most likely affect the way you feel. Build healthy eating habits, be mindful and improve your relationship with food. For advice on lifestyle changes to improve your physical and mental well-being, contact us at EBS Dieticians.