The link between what we eat, and our mental health is undeniable, with more and more studies showing how food impacts our mood, Gastroenterology Dietitian Dr Sammie Gill explains.
In fact, a landmark study published a few years ago called the ‘SMILES’ trial showed just that. This study was the first to test the question ‘If I improve my diet, will my mood improve?’
This study took people with moderate to severe depression – one group followed Mediterranean-style diet with support from a dietitian, the other group did not.
The diet packed in an impressive 50g fibre per day (and we all know how important fibre is for the gut) including whole grains, vegetables, fruit and legumes, in addition to low-fat dairy foods, fish, lean red meats, chicken, eggs and olive oil, whilst reducing intake of ‘extras’ foods, such as sweets, fried food and sugary drinks.
The results showed those in the Mediterranean-style group had a much greater reduction in depressive symptoms. In fact, 32% in the diet group compared to 8% in the control group were classified as no longer depressed.
For a deeper dive into how food and mood are linked, we recommend Brain Changer by Professor Felice Jacka.
Beyond diet, there is now interest in how live microbes may support mental health by piggybacking on the gut-brain axis. These have been labelled ‘psychobiotics’.
Although it’s early days, there are studies showing that certain live microbes can play a role in brain behaviour by producing metabolites and hormones. For more information, check out The Psychobiotic Revolution by Scott Anderson, Professor John Cryan and Professor Ted Dinan.
5 things we can do to feed our brain health
- Choose healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts (e.g. walnuts) and nut butters, oily fish (e.g. mackerel, sardines, salmon), seeds (e.g. chia, flax)
- Load up on fibre by including lots of fruit, veggies, wholegrains, and legumes (beans, peas and lentils). Fibre is a key food source for your gut microbes.
- Eat the rainbow – vibrant and brightly coloured foods often contain high amounts of plant chemicals (another food source for your gut microbes)
- Opt for quality proteins such as legumes, eggs, lean meats, poultry, nuts and seeds, fish, and oats.
- Keep ultra-processed foods to a minimum including foods high in sugar, saturated fat and salt (e.g. takeaways, ready meals, sugary drinks)
Hungry for more?
Did you know that if you look after your gut, you’re (quite literally) looking after you? Dr Sammie Gill shares five reasons why your gut is way more important than you think.