Our brain is our body’s gas tank, and we stuff that thing slap full of pizza, liquor, Tide Pods, cheeseburgers, french fries, and milkshakes all day, every day. We shove all manner of ungodly messes into our gas tanks throughout the day. Then, we wonder why we are often tired, irritable, moody, lack concentration, and find it difficult to get a good night’s rest in the evening. Though there are several factors that influence our mood, perhaps you are not providing proper nutrition for your brain.
Your brain is always working and requires fuel in order to work properly. That “fuel” is the food that we eat. Nutritive options, like fruits, vegetables, and other healthy fares packed with minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants provide suitable nutrition for your brain and help it function optimally. Whole foods also help rid your brain of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms produced whenever your body uses oxygen and can cause disease and premature aging.
On the other hand, unhealthy diets, particularly those high in refined sugars, are harmful and provide very little nutrition for your brain. High-sugar diets can interfere with your body’s ability to regulate insulin production, promote disease, and cause inflammation (which can also lead to disease).
Orthomolecular psychiatry is a scientific approach to healing mental illness. As opposed to just administering medication after medication and prescription after prescription, orthomolecular psychiatrists seek to correct underlying biochemical imbalances and dysfunctions by adjusting an individual’s diet, adding nutritional supplements, and implementing safe detoxes.
So if you regularly feeling down, depressed, and lethargic, don’t just attribute it to your genes, your past experiences, or your personality and write it off as a loss. Instead, perhaps it might be time to consider if what you’re eating is providing nutrition for your brain.
A healthy gut makes for a happy guy (or gal)
Go with your gut. Follow your gut. We always make references to our gut, but what the heck is the gut?
The gut is really just the layman’s term for the gastrointestinal tract. Everything that we consume is processed and digested through the gut. It’s a long tube that begins at the mouth and ends with the anus. It’s also lined with hundreds of millions of nerves cells known as neurons.
Your gut produces about 95 percent of your body’s serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that helps you regulate appetite, sleep, and inhibit pain. Serotonin is also responsible for mediating moods. Because the majority of your body’s serotonin is produced in your gut, it naturally follows that what you consume guides your emotions.
Moreover, the healthy bacteria that make up your intestinal microbiome strongly influence the neurons found in your gut as well as serotonin production. These “good” bacteria protect your intestinal lining and provide a barrier against toxins and “bad” bacteria. Beneficial bacteria inhibit inflammation, impact how well your body absorbs nutrients, and activate neural pathways that travel between the gut and the brain. Nutrition and psychology are inextricably interwoven, and it all begins in your gut.
Nutrition for your Brain
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial to your gut health. Though you can purchase probiotic supplements, probiotics are naturally occurring in many foods including yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, pickles, and kombucha. Studies have indicated that consuming probiotics or probiotic supplements can improve mental health. Specifically, probiotics can improve anxiety levels, the perception of stress, and mental outlook.
Other studies have compared “traditional” diets — like Japanese and Mediterranean diets — to “western” diets. Traditional diets tend to include unprocessed grains, fish, fruits, seafood, and vegetables. Western diets generally feature lots of processed foods, refined sugars, meat, and dairy. These studies have shown that a strong correlation exists between the western diet and the presence of anxiety and depression. In fact, the risk of depression amongst individuals who regularly eat western diets is 25 to 35 percent higher than those who eat traditional diets on a regular basis.
Unprocessed foods spoil exponentially faster than processed foods. Since traditional diets are generally devoid of processed foods, they often contain fermented foods. Fermentation acts as a natural preservative, preserving the food from spoiling as well as the nutrients in it. During the fermentation process, a healthy genus of bacteria known as lactobacillus eat the lactose (sugar) from whatever foods you are fermenting. As the bacteria digest the lactose, they convert it into lactic acid. These lactic acid bacteria serve as natural probiotics.
Although the field of orthomolecular psychiatry has been around for quite some time, it has only recently been receiving the attention that it deserves. Science has already found much evidence that indicates a strong relationship between nutrition and psychology — that food affects your mood, how you feel, and ultimately how you behave, so stop believing the lies of pharmaceutical companies that tell you there’s something is wrong with you, and start effecting the change that you’re capable of making.*
What should I do next?
Studies have found that diets make you gain weight in the long run, so a rash decision to never again eat refined sugars or processed foods is probably not the best idea. Instead, aim for a week or two of clean eating. During this time, eliminate all processed foods and refined sugars. It might be difficult, especially if your diet is high in processed food and sugar. However, keeping a journal of what you eat and your mood during those days may help serve as motivation.
As you start introducing foods that provide nutrition for your brain, you will start to notice a difference in your mood, appetite, energy, and focus. Currently, I am on day six of a “clean eating” streak where I’ve removed (almost) all processed and refined sugars. And I feel fabulous. I have more energy. I have increased confidence. And the biggest thing I’ve noticed is that I am not as irritable as usual.
(Update: Today was my birthday, so I had some macaroni and cheese and cake, but everything in moderation).
If a week or two of clean eating is too big of a commitment, start by making substitutions. Usually eat milk and cereal for breakfast? Try a Greek yogurt parfait. Greek yogurt is high in protein, probiotics, calcium, and potassium. It’s also low in sugar. Hot dogs are not the ideal meal, but if you must eat one, swap out the toppings. Instead of topping your dog with ketchup (which is full of sugar), get a hefty portion of sauerkraut instead.
As you implement these changes, take note of how your body reacts. The ultimate goal is not a transient fad diet but a lifestyle change. Just like one salad won’t make you healthy, one cheeseburger won’t kill you. This is a process, so stick to it, and start feeding your brain what it needs.
Have you noticed a change in your mood as your eating habits improve? What are some of your favorite “clean eats?” Let me know in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.
*Disclaimer: I am not “hating on” nor judging anyone who takes prescription medications. I am just suggesting that immediately turning to medicines and antibiotics which often do more harm than good might not be the best bet in all instances.