Could the right food improve your mood?
You’ve heard me rhapsodize about my favorite dietary advice so often I’m sure you can probably recite it from memory by now: “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.” So you may be surprised that I like another phrase for optimal nutrition almost as much. This one comes from Dr. Drew Ramsey: “Seafood, greens, nuts and beans — and a little dark chocolate.”
What makes this phrase different isn’t so much the wording -- both instructions point to a philosophy of eating primarily a whole food plant based diet native to the Mediterranean region (read more about the Mediterranean Diet here) -- it’s Dr. Ramsey’s area of expertise: He’s a psychiatrist. And his new book, “Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety,” outlines how healthy foods can have a positive impact on your brain. Not surprisingly, they’re the same foods that are good for your heart (and your gut and diabetes management and overall longevity): Foods with large amounts of fiber, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
Ramsey -- who is also founder of the Brain Food Clinic in New York, a practice aimed at helping people manage mood disorders through food -- asks the same question of new mental health patients that I ask of new cardiovascular patients: What kinds of food do you typically eat? And, happily, he’s not the only one doing this! Nutritional psychiatry is an emerging field, as this New York Times article outlines.
Many studies have shown a link between people who eat certain foods and positive mental well-being. One such study of 150 adults showed that a Mediterranean diet helped reduce depression, stress and anxiety after three months. But I need to be clear here – a Mediterranean diet does not mean bowls of pasta! A TRUE Mediterranean diet is one that favors plant-based whole foods – like those beans, greens, nuts, seeds, fruits vegetables and grains (all in their most whole and unprocessed forms) – that I keep talking about. It’s the same diet that supports healthy longevity. It’s the diet where meat (all meat, regardless of source), cheese and dairy are more condiments than stars of any meal - and pasta is merely a delivery vehicle for lots of other healthy ingredients.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how or why diet seems to support good mental health, but scientists postulate that the connection may be through the gut microbiome. The gut-brain axis provides a communication channel for the gut and the brain to “talk.” The gut and brain are actually connected in a number of ways. For example, both produce neurotransmitters that control feelings and emotions -- including serotonin (the happy hormone) and GABA (a neurotransmitter that helps control fear and anxiety).
Of course, eating more fruits and vegetables isn’t a stand-alone cure for depression, just as it’s not a stand-alone cure for heart disease. But it is clear that eating more “seafood, greens, nuts and beans” could improve overall health for many of us, and probably in more ways than we know.
(And yes, our Dark Chocolate Crunch Bars do provide a perfect dose of dark chocolate.)
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