This post is inspired by Lesson 6 of The Lift Project, a cutting-edge depression and anxiety program. Developed by lifestyle medicine expert Darren Morton, Ph.D., the program is used by companies and groups. Click here to learn more.
“Your state of mind might be dependent on your state of gut.”
– John Cryan –
Main point: food feeds your mood
As you may recall from this blog post, the limbic system is the part of the brain involved in emotion and action. What affects your limbic system changes how you feel–happiness, sadness, anger: each emotion springs from this brain region.
Why do we humans get “down” and depressed? We have emotions for a reason. Fear motivates us to “fight or take flight” in a crisis. We experience love because it bonds us and inspires us to sacrifice for the good of the whole. Scientists have come up with a novel answer.
Today, most of us will die from lifestyle-related diseases: poor eating patterns, physical inactivity, or high levels of stress. In previous generations, people mostly died from bugs like bacteria or a virus that invaded their body.
To deal with foreign invaders, our body as a sophisticated line of defense–our immune system. While our immune system fights off foreign invaders, it needs us to do two things. First, it needs us to conserve energy, because it needs more energy to fight off the bacteria or virus. Secondly, our bodies need us to stay away from other people to prevent the bug from spreading.
What happens when you get the flu? You feel lethargic and tend to socially isolate yourself.
When you get the flu, you have symptoms of depression. Scientists hypothesize that our brain creates a low mood to help our body cope with foreign invaders. While depressive symptoms like a low mood and antisocial behavior might be helpful for fighting off bugs, it’s not helpful to have those symptoms long-term.
But could the idea of depression being a response to foreign invaders help explain why so many people are depressed today? The answer might be yes–and it implicates our diet.
Diet and Depression
As Michael Pollan points out in his best-selling In Defense of Food, if your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, your body doesn’t either.
Our bodies recognize processed food as a foreign invader and go into defense–and depressed–mood.
Nutrition-centered programs like the Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP) have helped tens of thousands of people to substitute “foreign invader” food with foods that lift the mood. The outstanding outcomes of the program have been published in many medical journals.
Scientists now know that processed food and drinks cause us to feel down as our bodies try to deal with the unwelcome invasion.
Food that Makes Us Feel Good
In 2016, a review of over 20 studies found a strong connection between plant-based diets and positive mood.
Another notable study from Great Britain found a positive relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and happiness. The more people consumed fruits and vegetables, the happier they were, even taking into account a number of other factors known to influence happiness.
Other studies show that fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes improve happiness and other mental measures like curiosity and creativity.
Berries beat the blues, and carrots cultivate creativity!
The Happy Gut
It is now known that the health of your gut and its bacteria has a profound effect on your health and wellbeing.
More than 70% of your immune system is distributed around your gut, so it’s now surprising that an individual’s gut health is linked to allergies, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, cancers and autism.
The state of your gut can affect your state of mind through chemicals produced by your gut bacteria that are absorbed into your blood and make their way to the Limbo. Because of this gut-brain connection, a poor diet can shrink parts of your Limbo!
Make Fiber Your Friend
Fortunately, nature provides an easy way for you to keep your trillions of bacteria happy, so you can be happy too. The secret is fibre! Fibre is the non-digestible parts of plants–there is no fibre in animal products–and your gut bacteria loves the stuff!
Different plant foods contain different types of fiber and nutrients–and their color leaves clues. By eating plant-foods of many colors, you eat more nutritiously and this pleases your gut bacteria. Eat a rainbow.
In short, there’s overwhelming evidence to suggest that food feeds your mood. To live more, you need to eat more plants.
Your Week’s Challenge
Eat Eight Fists Full of Fibre
Each day, consume eight or more servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
- A serving size is roughly the size of your fist
- Consume the foods in as close to their natural state as possible
- Breads count as long as they are wholegrain or wholemeal
Incorporate Gut-Happy Foods
- High-fiber: apples, raspberries, blueberries
- Fermented: yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh
- Polyphenol-rich: cocoa, dark chocolate, green tea, broccoli
- Prebiotic-fiber: garlic, onions, leeks, green bananas, oats, flaxseeds
“The pleasure of the second taste of Basset’s French vanilla ice cream is less than half of the first, and by the fourth taste it’s just calories”
– Martin Seligman –
Main point: eat nutritiously