How Our Diet Impacts Our Mental Health
Research has found that by consuming foods that contain whole and complex carbohydrates, instead of refined carbohydrates, one can decrease their risk of experiencing mood disorders. This decreased risk is mediated through hormonal mechanisms that encourage the maintenance of healthy blood serotonin levels, while providing the body with the nutrients and energy it needs to maintain optimal health and performance.
Carbohydrates and Our Hormones
- When broken down during digestion, carbohydrates provide the body with glucose, which is the brain’s favoured energy source. When carbohydrates are digested, it triggers the release of insulin, a hormone required to control blood sugar levels.
- Insulin triggers the release of tryptophan, an essential amino acid obtained only through diet, to cross the blood-brain barrier, which can increase or decrease serotonin levels depending on blood glucose levels.
What is Serotonin and Why it is Important
- Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter for mental health as it is considered to be a mood stabilizer.
- Someone with low serotonin levels is more susceptible to developing mood disorders such as depression or anxiety.
How Can YOU Improve Your Mental Health With Diet and Nutrition?
- Seeing as carbohydrates are related to particular neurotransmitters, it is important to obtain them from whole carbohydrate food sources, such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
- Interestingly, a study done by Deshpande et al. (2009) found that only 7.3% of university students eat the recommended daily serving of fruits and vegetables. (It is my prediction that this may be quite a bit higher in 2021, not only in university students but in many other demographics as well!)
- Sources of unhealthy, refined carbohydrates are foods like sugars (i.e. candy and chocolate), white bread, and pastries.
- Refined carbohydrates are the type of carbohydrates that are most often consumed by university students, busy families, and those who are living below the poverty line in North America, as they are marketed to be cheap, accessible and time-saving.
- Foods that contain refined carbohydrates are often low in essential nutrients.
Therefore, by choosing foods that contain whole carbohydrates, one can decrease the risk of experiencing mood disorders by maintaining healthy levels of serotonin in the blood, while providing the body with the nutrients and energy it needs.