When I first heard the idea that food can influence your mood, I was a little skeptical at first. “Was this just another trend that will pass in a few months?” “Is the idea just another diet fad?” “A gimmick?” But once I started to dive deeper into the subject, it changed the way I think about food.
In his book, “Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety,” Dr. Drew Ramsey explores the idea of nutritional psychiatry, citing numerous studies and examples to educate the reader about this fascinating emerging area. He cites how antidepressants and antipsychotic mediations and talk therapy have been traditional tools for doctors, social works, psychologists, and therapists to help treat depression. But “[h]ealthy eating is one such tool,” as well, he adds.
But don’t necessarily expect to get a prescription for food to treat your depression anytime soon.
“Despite the fact that a flood of studies has now been published demonstrating that good, nutrient-dense food really is a form of medicine, both in terms of physical and mental health, many of my colleagues are still approaching depression and anxiety in the same old ways,” Ramsey writes.
Although taking a deep dive into how this works exactly, some of the basics are interesting. For example, Ramsey points to a few key nutrients and how they impact the workings of the brain. Things like iron, folate, selenium, zinc, thiamine, and Vitamins A, C, and B12 all play a role in brain health. Moreover, there are bodily processes like neuroplasticity, inflammation, and the microbiome that these nutrients influence.
In short, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and adapt, while the microbiome is the name of the trillions of healthy bacteria that live within our guts. Without the latter, we would die. Finally, inflammation is the process that occurs when our immune systems kick into action or how our immune systems respond to stress. Too much inflammation isn’t good for our bodies. And here’s the key to this new science: Our diets – or, what we eat – may influence these processes for better or worse.
When you reflect upon the fact that our brains consume roughly 20% of the energy we eat, it makes sense that nutrition would play such a vital role.
In the end, more research needs to be conducted, but the emerging field of nutritional psychiatry holds promise. Ramsey does recommend certain foods that contain some of the aforementioned vitamins and nutrients. Finally, the next time you eat, think about what your putting in your stomach and how it may impact your brain.
Ramsey, D. (2021). Eat to beat depression and anxiety. Harper Collins. New York, NY.