I do wonder sometimes whether people who lived in and survived World War II were less depressed than we are now or was it the same level or is it that we talk about it more today. Do we talk enough about it anyway? What I can tell you for sure is that in 2021 depression, anxiety and more frequent panic attacks are the most common mental health problems that people are facing worldwide. We have all experienced a depressive moment in our lives even if most of us refused to admit it. Yes, we still think that having to say we are depressed is a weak move. I’m sure if we read closely comic books on Superman or Batman, we will definitely identify some panic attacks over there. Hectic work hours or conditions, relationship instabilities, family disorientation, loss of a closed one, traffic jam, loans, health issues and not to forget COVID 19 have increased our level of stress every day. Not to mention the amount of people who felt lonely or a complete failure amid the several lockdowns. That’s no joke. I’ve also noticed that more and more of my clients hide their mental health behind their nutritional habits, which I admit can be hard sometimes for me to prepare diet plans. It is well known today that there is a strong link between improved mental health and mind-body approaches such as exercise, mindfulness, yoga and acupuncture. Today a growing body of evidence indicates that nutrition may also play an important role in the management of mental health problems.
We are now, slowly but surely, realizing that our gut speaks to our brain. If the gut is happy, then the brain will be too. What does that actually mean? It’s simple. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and also our mood. Since about 95% of our serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, lined with millions neurons, it makes absolute sense that our digestive system doesn’t just help us digest food but also guide our emotions. This whole process is highly influenced by the “good” bacteria that make up your intestinal microbiome. These good bacteria are found in probiotics notably fermented products like yogurt. Whole grains (whole wheat and pulses) do contain the type of amino acid that makes your body produce serotonin. Now you understand the famous proverb: “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”, it was not just the food but it was serotonin too.
Functional drinks and edibles that contain stress-reducing substances like cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant, are increasing in popularity around the world as they are known to help the body to adapt to stress. You can access The Lancet for more evidence based studies on cannabidiol.
That was a lot of talk. What I mean is to try to change your diet as you will read below:
- People on the Mediterranean diet and the Japanese diet (sushi sushi sushi do make me happy) are usually less depressed. Such diets are very simple and consist of mixing your carbs with whole grains and pulses, get plenty of colourful vegetables for each meal or fresh fruits, focus more on fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, add healthy oils like olive oil, nuts (almonds, walnuts), sunflower seeds, flaxseeds and avocadoes and cut your hidden sugars entirely (do not add sugar in your tea and no cola).
- Quinoa– contains quercetin which has anti-depressant effects.
- Salmon, tuna, sardines (fatty fish as mentioned above)- are packed with omega 3 fatty acids which form part of our brain cells and have proven to eventually improve our mood.
- Vitamin D– you must probably be saying “huhh vitamin D?” Well it helps in the production of serotonin (remember?)-makes total sense now. We usually get our Vitamin D from the sun but it’s also found in mushrooms, milk, beef, chicken livers, cod liver oil and other fatty fish. Just imagine, you at the beach with a beautiful sun…that’s already so relaxing.
- Chocolate with at least 70% cacao- contains Magnesium which is known to boost our good mood. Whenever you feel tired, have a small piece of chocolate. It would not kill you.
- Yogurt and other probiotics- for the gut health, that’s pretty obvious
- Grapes- contain resveratrol, an antioxidant proven to boost mood. Well that’s why wine makes us so happy (What kind of a nutritionist says that? Drink with moderation okay)
- Folic acid- is important from what I read on sciencedirect as a deficiency leads to a drop in serotonin levels. So eat lots of dark leafy greens like spinach and bok choy (bredes chinois)- mine bouilli, mine bouilli, mine bouilli makes me so happy.
- Oysters and other seafood– they are not just aphrodisiacs guys but they do contain high levels of zinc and selenium with is also linked to low levels of anxiety.
- Coffee– now this one will surprise you as coffee has been linked with nervousness for decades. But let me tell you that 2-3 cups of coffee per day can actually make you feel really good. Have you ever felt sad in a coffee shop? NO. So please throw away the decaf at home.
However, it is important to keep in mind that while the link between nutrition and mental health is still observational, it does work for many of us. It did for me. The best remedy remains a good night of sleep. Stop normalizing working late at night at the expense of your own happiness. Surround yourself with positive people, good music, and good vibes and do what makes you happy. See a psychologist if you feel you need to. There’s no shame in that. We’ve got one life. And for the diet, try eating “clean” for one to two weeks by cutting out all processed foods and sugar and just see what your body does and how good you will feel. Your diet can be one missing puzzle piece to better mental health.