What is Nutritional Psychiatry? How Does Food Affect Your Mood?
National Nutrition Month is celebrated each year during the month of March. It’s a good time for focusing on the importance of making informed food choices and developing healthy habits such as exercising and eating right. When you take the time to be mindful about your eating habits, there’s a good chance you’ll notice there’s a connection between the food that you’re taking in and your mood.
Food is fuel the body needs for optimum health. There are many benefits of a healthy diet, such as strong bones and teeth, more energy, better ability to sleep and lowered risk of several chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer. Eating right is important for not just physical health but also for emotional and mental health.
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The Connection Between Food and Mood
One connection between food and mood that people often recognize is that being hungry can cause irritability. Feeling hungry and angry is sometimes referred to as being “hangry.” Skipping meals can lead to a drop in blood sugar, which can trigger mood swings.
When you feel sad, you may crave sugary treats or other types of “comfort food.” When you know on some level that eating comfort food makes you feel better, you may develop a habit of compulsive eating as an unhealthy way to cope with stress. While eating sugary foods or other comfort foods can give you a momentary lift, it can also set you up for an emotional slump once the lift passes.
Like all your other organs, the brain requires a continuous supply of nutritious food. What you eat or don’t eat can affect the function and structure of the brain. Without the proper fuel, it’s difficult or impossible for the brain to function correctly. It’s important to include high-quality foods in your diet for your brain to be as healthy as possible.
Nutritional psychiatry is a growing field that recognizes the way diet can affect emotions. Research is showing there’s also a connection between the bacteria that live in your gut and how well you absorb nutrients, which can, in turn, affect mood. Healthy gut bacteria can help to limit inflammation throughout the body and activate neural pathways between the gut and the brain.
The inner functioning of your digestive system also affects the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, a chemical that affects mood, appetite, and sensation of pain. Research is ongoing in the field of nutritional psychiatry to evaluate the connections between gut bacteria, nutrients, and brain function.
Eating Right for Mental Health
Consuming a diet that is mostly made up of junk food or prepackaged food doesn’t provide the fuel your brain needs to function as well as it could. Making unhealthy food choices often contributes to the tendency to forget to include nutrient-rich choices in your diet such as lean meat, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Consider limiting sugar and processed foods for a couple of weeks and see if there’s a change in your moods.
It’s a good idea to pay attention to how foods may be affecting your mood. Try logging what you eat along with your overall mood. See if you can identify any patterns involving your mood swings and what you’ve eaten. It’s becoming increasingly clear that there’s an important connection between nutrition and mental health, and dietary intake may be one of several factors that contributes to the development of some forms of mental illness. The symptoms of mood disorders may also worsen when you don’t get the nutrients you need.
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