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Home / Books / Excerpt: The Food Mood Connection by Uma Naidoo

Excerpt: The Food Mood Connection by Uma Naidoo

There’s a strong link between your state of mind and what you eat. This extract from the chapter titled Depression: Probiotics, Omega-3s and the Mediterranean Eating Pattern highlights foods that can help you fight depression in trying times

books Updated: Oct 16, 2020, 13:16 IST
Hindustan Times
Baked aubergine, zucchini and tomatoes. Following a version of the Mediterranean diet seems to work well with those prone to depression.
Baked aubergine, zucchini and tomatoes. Following a version of the Mediterranean diet seems to work well with those prone to depression. (De Agostini via Getty Images)
384pp, Rs 499; Short Books; Distributed in India by Hachette India
384pp, Rs 499; Short Books; Distributed in India by Hachette India

Depression and Your Gut

When stress is skyrocketing and your mood is plunging, it’s only natural to turn to comfort food... It’s not surprising that in 2018, a cross-sectional research study of depressed college students found that 30.3 per cent ate fried foods, 49 per cent drank sweetened drinks, and 51.8 per cent ate sugary food two to seven times per week. Women were found to be even more susceptible to eating unhealthy food when depressed...

Many depressed people will skip meals and make poor food choices, which makes sense given that depression is associated with waning levels of mood-regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin. This can make self-care, like fixing healthy meals, a real challenge. All you can think is, I want to feel better, and convenient junk foods like candy bars and potato chips in the moment seem to do the trick.

But here’s the thing: they really don’t… high sugar intake can contribute to and worsen depression, as well as increase the odds that depression will recur in your life. Luckily, there are foods that can boost and improve mood…

When discussing depression and the gut with my patients, I often use the phrase “blue bowel”, a lighthearted name for the very serious relationship between depression and your gut…

Food changes the types of bacteria present in your gut microbiome. Your gut bacteria may become less diverse as a result of your diet, which may cause the bad bacteria to outgrow the good bacteria, triggering a cascade of negative health effects. Food can also influence the chemical messages these bacteria send from your gut up to your brain along the vagus nerve — signals that can make you feel either depressed and drained or uplifted and energized.

Animal research first led scientists to theorize that people who are depressed have different populations of gut bacteria than those who are not depressed... inducing depression in mice changes their gut activity and bacteria.

Studies in humans appear to confirm this hypothesis. In 2019, psychiatrist Stephanie Cheung and her colleagues summarized findings from six studies that looked at gut health in patients with depression. They reported that patients with major depressive disorder had at least fifty types of bacterial species in their gut microbiome that were different from those of control subjects without major depressive disorder. Recent research suggests that bacterial species associated with higher quality-of-life indicators are depleted in depressed subjects, while bacteria that cause inflammation are often found in higher numbers in people suffering from depression. This tells us that inflammation and depression are closely linked.

The Mediterranean Eating Pattern

While the Mediterranean diet wasn’t formulated expressly with mental health in mind, it incorporates… depression busting foods… in healthy ratios to help you achieve the nutrient balance needed for optimal brain functioning and mood regulation. And, of course, it’s healthy for your body in many other ways.

As first described in 1957 by physiologists Ancel Keys and Francisco Grande Covián, and then refined by scientific studies that evaluated the impact of this way of eating on health outcomes, some daily foods in the original Mediterranean diet should include:

• 3–9 servings of vegetables

• ½–2 servings of fruit

• 1–13 servings of cereals (bread and other grains, preferably whole grains)

• Up to 8 servings of olive oil

While those serving sizes look like broad ranges (particularly for cereals — 13 servings of carbs per day is not advisable in modern nutrition), the amounts translate to roughly 2,200 calories a day, broken down as 37 per cent total fat (of which 18 per cent is monounsaturated and 9 per cent is saturated) and 33 grams of fibre.

Rather than adhering to the strict proportions of the traditional Mediterranean diet, I prefer to have my patients follow the Mediterranean eating pattern (MEP), which confers the same protective effects on depression risk... The MEP is a plant-based diet that’s abundant in locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables and other foods that are minimally processed (e.g. beans, nuts, whole grains). Sweets are limited, and only high-quality fats are acceptable, with olive oil being the primary source of fat. The MEP includes low to moderate dairy intake, and protein is mainly seafood, with red meat and eggs consumed in smaller quantities and less frequently. Wine is consumed in low to moderate amounts with meals, and herbs and spices are used instead of salt to add flavour to foods. In fact, there is plenty of flexibility with flavours. I always try to adapt the Mediterranean lifestyle to a patient’s culture and tastes…

Depression Cheat Sheet

The Mediterranean eating pattern is a great guideline to give you a complete diet that will fight depression and keep your brain healthy.

Foods to Embrace:

• Probiotics: Yogurt with active cultures, tempeh, miso, natto, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, buttermilk and certain cheeses.

• Prebiotics: Beans, oats, bananas, berries, garlic, onions, dandelion greens, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes and leeks.

• Low-GI carbohydrates: Brown rice, quinoa, steel-cut oats and chia seeds.

• Medium-GI foods, in moderation: Honey, orange juice and whole-grain bread.

• Healthy fats: Monounsaturated fats like olive oil, nuts, nut butters and avocados.

• Omega-3 fatty acids: Fish, especially oily fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines.

• Vitamins B9 , B12, B1 , B6 , A and C.

• Minerals and micronutrients: Iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and selenium.

• Spices: Saffron and turmeric.

• Herbs: Oregano, lavender, passionflower and chamomile.

Foods to Avoid:

• Sugar: Baked products, candy, soda, or anything sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.

• High-GI carbs: White bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta, and anything else made from refined flour.

• Artificial sweeteners: Aspartame is particularly harmful, but also use saccharin, sucralose and stevia in moderation and with caution.

• Fried foods: French fries, fried chicken, fried seafood, or anything else deep-fried in oil.

• Bad fats: Trans fats such as margarine and hydrogenated oils are to be avoided totally; omega-6 fats such as vegetable, corn, sunflower and safflower oil should be consumed in moderation.

• Nitrates: An additive used in bacon, salami, sausage and other cured meats

Excerpted with permission from The Food Mood Connection, published by Short Books and distributed in India by Hachette India.

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