We have most likely all heard the phrase from Hippocrates, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’. The ways in which nutrition and the foods that we eat can influence our health is quite remarkable and it’s also incredibly empowering for individuals to know the ways in which our daily habits, such as what we eat, can have profound effects on our wellbeing and mental fitness. 

Technology advances enables us to access information with only a couple of clicks and some key word searches. Unfortunately, information regarding nutrition can be overwhelming or confusing, or you’ve tried something that just doesn’t sit well for you, metaphorically or maybe quite literally. Nutritional medicine is an evolving science, and although there is a lot of noise from people and industries claiming to have the perfect solution, every human is unique and a one size fits all model doesn’t exist. 

You are only as healthy as what you can digest and absorb. This is a great saying and it not only makes sense, but also points to the integral role gut health and digestion have on mental health. It is well established that particular nutrients (vitamin b’s, essential fatty acids, zinc and more) are beneficial for mood and brain health, so it’s no surprise that to be for able to absorb nutrients from food we need digestion to be functioning well. 

What you eat and how you eat have equal importance. It doesn’t matter if you are eating the cleanest and ‘healthiest’ diet with all the expensive superfoods, because if you are eating mindlessly or in a state of stress, then digestion and absorption will be impaired. Eating mindfully, chewing food properly and actually enjoying food so much so that you are salivating (which is one of the ways to support digestive enzymes such as amylase to improve digestion) are simple small changes with the potential for profound outcomes. 

Increasing plant foods that are rich in colour and variety within the diet will promote greater gut diversity in our microbiome as well as increases the intake of antioxidants and phytonutrients from eating colourful fruit and vegetables. Some ‘Mood’ foods known for boosting serotonin, which is a well-known chemical associated with good mood is by increasing tryptophan rich foods such as wild salmon, organic eggs and poultry, dark leafy greens, nut and seeds, legumes and some soy products.

Mood foods are foods that are packed with chemical compounds required for the synthesis of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) and pathways that affect mood, sleep and appetite – eg serotonin, melatonin. When the body is in a state of chronic or acute stress, experiencing sudden change, or changes across the lifespan, we require specific nutrients and co factors in higher amounts. Sometimes we can get the nutrients we need through whole foods, sometimes supplementation may be required. When it comes to giving general nutrition advice, food as medicine is always going to be the first prescription, and often the easier, and tastier way to implement better nutrition.

Written by Grace Oakley Nutrition