30th June 2017 | Community Blog, Diabetics

To reap the benefits, you need to cut the bad and add the good

As more and more individuals in developed countries grapple with being overweight or obese, new so-called miracle diets pop up almost daily. Clearly, consumers have begun to examine what makes our waistlines shrink or expand, but have we taken pause to consider how specific foods play into our feelings? Most people who finally “lose the weight” remark how much better they feel and how much more energy they have. However, our physical appearance is only the tip of the psychological iceberg; science shows that what we eat and how we feel are connected far beyond our size.

Interestingly, our food preferences seem to be dictated from a young age, based initially in biological needs. Most newborns show a preference for sweet tastes, versus sour or bitter tastes, as measured by facial expressions. This is actually the result of a biological adaptation “in which sweetness indicates the presence of valuable calories, whereas bitterness or sourness may signal the presence of toxins.” So while we may not always be able to resist a sweet tooth, and while we may be able to ignore the physical effects of poor nutrition for decades, like cancer or heart disease, knowing how what we eat affects how we feel gives us more immediate agency over what goes into our bodies.

Research shows that lower intakes of nutrient-dense foods and higher intakes of unhealthy foods are each independently associated with smaller left hippocampal volume (near the center of the brain), which appears to be related to the development of major depression. In other words, feeling better emotionally isn’t just about cutting out certain foods; it’s equally about adding in more of the good.

There is strong evidence that a healthy diet can improve mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. In another study, “Increased fruit and vegetable consumption was predictive of increased happiness, life satisfaction and well-being.” The study showed that, after increasing intake of fruits (two servings a day) and vegetables (five servings a day) within 24 months, participants exhibited psychological gains equivalent to moving from unemployment to employment. If you’ve ever experienced the transition from jobless to happily employed, you know the difference in happiness, security and general peace of mind that comes with that transition is night and day.

So before resorting to prescription pills for mood disorders, reducing sources of dietary inflammation might be worth trying. Many would be surprised to learn that evidence shows that same inflammation plays a role in psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder, mania, schizophrenia, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those seeking to reduce sources of dietary inflammation would be advised to reduce or eliminate personal food allergies (more on this below), intake of refined sugar, artificial sweeteners and additives (like dyes), processed carbohydrates, trans fats (like hydrogenated oils, which have been chemically altered to extend shelf life; enough said), excess sodium, alcohol (a known depressant) and caffeine. While that list may seem daunting initially, spending a few seconds reading nutrition labels may, in fact, give you hours of feeling better emotionally and mentally.