Nutritional psychiatry: Your Brain on Food

Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel. Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress.

But unfortunately, your brain can be damaged if you ingest anything other than premium fuel, just like an expensive car. For example, diets high in refined sugars, are harmful to the brain. In addition to worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress.

If your brain is deprived of good-quality nutrition, or if free radicals or damaging inflammatory cells are circulating within the brain’s enclosed space, further contributing to brain tissue injury, consequences are to be expected. Interestingly, for many years, the medical field did not fully acknowledge the connection between mood and food.

Fortunately, today, the burgeoning field of nutritional psychiatry is finding there are many consequences and correlations between not only what you eat, how you feel, and how you ultimately behave, but also the kinds of bacteria that live in your gut.

How the foods you eat affect how you feel

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Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions. They protect the lining of your intestines and ensure they provide a strong barrier against toxins and “bad” bacteria; they limit inflammation; they improve how well you absorb nutrients from your food; and they activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain.

Studies have shown that when people take supplements containing the good bacteria which are also known as probiotics, their anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook improve, compared with people who did not take them.

What does this mean for you?

180713104325--Bristol Diabetes UK meeting to focus on healthy African and Caribbean food

Start paying attention to how eating different foods makes you feel, not just in the moment, but the next day. Try eating a “clean” diet for two to three weeks — that means cutting out all processed foods and sugar. Add fermented foods to your meal and go on dairy-free diets then see how you feel. You could now slowly introduce foods back into your diet, one by one, and see how you feel.

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