Well, maybe just 7 …
There are many ways diet can affect your mental health. Here are just seven of the main contenders that I see regularly in clinic ….
1. Blood Sugar Balance: A very common issue – do you ever get hangry? Relying too heavily of carbohydrate, fruit, sugar or simply not eating enough protein can make blood sugar levels rise and fall throughout the day. When they fall you will lack concentration, feel tired and irritable (hangry!). The problem is when you are on the blood sugar rollercoaster it is difficult to get off as only starchy, sugary foods or stimulants will give you the boost you need to (temporarily) feel better.
2. Plain old mineral deficiencies. It’s simple if you haven’t got enough minerals your brain won’t function as it should. Deficiencies in zinc can lead to anxiety, depression and those with digestive issues are most at risk (see number 4). Optimal absorption is the key, it’s not enough just to be eating a good diet.
3. Fatty acid imbalances: This is a biggie. The more we surrender to food that has been cooked or prepared using vegetable oils the more we are at risk of creating a population of depressed, violent or learning disabled individuals. the damaged fats from processed vegetable oils block the uptake of essential fats in the body. The brain needs these essential fats. There will be an epidemic of brain disorders and mental health issues if the food industry doesn’t take action. At least you can control what goes in your mouth. There have been some fabulous studies looking at the effect of essential fatty acid supplementation on violent offences in young offenders and ADHD type symptoms in primary school children.
4. Gut health: It’s your second brain and research into how it can influence our mental health is ongoing as we speak. Studies have shown how the gut bacteria can influence anxiety and sensory issues we suspect via the vagus nerve. Also, inflammation (which often begins in the gut) influences depression. Let’s not forget that inadequate protein breakdown through a lack of stomach acid and digestive enzymes will impact on neurotransmitter function leaving you deficient in dopamine or serotonin. Good gut health is the long term key to good health, and indeed good mental health.
5. Inflammation: In many ways this is a combination of points 3 and 4 but deserves it’s own bullet point too. Just to drive home the fact that the brain is not an island separate from the activity of the rest of the body. Depression can results from a chronic inflammatory state. In the same way that inflammation can affect your joints and your skin it can also affect your brain.
6. Adrenal Fatigue: This is chronic condition that I see all too often. Our fast paced lifestyle can leave us using the wrong type of foods as a crutch. Coupled with deficiencies and ongoing stresses (both physical and mental) this can sometimes result in compromised adrenal function. The adrenal glands help our bodies to adapt and cope with these stresses but when they are worn out the mental symptoms are tough to handle. They include brain fog, lack of motivation, depression an inability to cope.
7. Food intolerances: Eating foods you are intolerant to can affect mental health in a number of ways. Each time you eat it there is a cascade of inflammation along with a wasting of critical nutrients and a heavy impact on the adrenal glands as they are called into action to address the effects. Eating problem foods will also impact on blood sugar balance and gut health too which we’ve seen are closely linked to mental well being. It can be tricky to totally avoid foods you react to and often people think that small amounts from time to time might be alright, but I urge caution until your gut is healed. In some instances when the blood brain barrier has been permeable there have been extreme mental reactions to foods. Gluten is notorious in nutritional circles for producing this reaction, but many people would never make the connection.