For Mental Health Awareness Week, experts throw light on the role that a good diet can play in keeping psychological health issues in check.
Oftentimes one’s wellbeing is gauged by their appearance. As long as they appear healthy, aka no receding hairline, acne-free cheeks and doing well, they are fine. But with increasing competition and pressure of keeping up with society can take a toll on the mind, leading to stress, depression, or anxiety.
However, with more and more celebrities openly addressing issues like depression, anxiety, and related problems, society has come to accept mental health issues. While constant affirmations and seeking professional help is the correct step forward to get through it, little is known about how food can play a healing role in keeping anxiety or depression at bay. According to Integrative Nutritionist & Gut Health Coach Payal Kothari, a great deal can be achieved by keeping our gut happy. She points out that mind and body chemistry is very important, as most of the illnesses occur with inflammation in the gut and brain.
“There is a brain and gut axis — GBA — that is constantly communicating through neurons. So what we feed the gut helps resolve inflammation, and it also has more bacteria than human cells. Firstly they are predisposed genetically because of our parents. Secondly, the stress and the packed microwave food we consume nowadays plays a huge role in bacteria life, as they don’t have the required ambience to thrive,” Kothari explains.
The nutritionist further emphasises ample water intake, since the body is 70 percent water. “Either take coconut water or fruit juices, but eat the fruit to get the juice from it, and the fibre from it is great for bacteria to thrive. It also helps you with clean motions. And when the stomach is clean, it automatically lifts the mood,” she adds.
Meanwhile, Amreen Shaikh, the head dietician and nutritionist at Wockhardt Hospital in Mumbai Central advises incorporating anti-oxidant rich food like berries, citrus food, and Vitamin C and E-rich foods like nuts pumpkin, watermelon, and flax seeds, as it supports brain functioning and protects against brain oxidative stress. “Even dark chocolate and turmeric milk — milk has vitamin D and turmeric has curcumin which has anti-inflammatory properties, so having them together will have a calming effect — are anti-oxidants. Also, studies have shown a positive effect of Vitamin B on the nervous system, and it helps in anxiety disorders in reducing anxiety,” says Shaikh. In fact, all Vitamin B rich food like fish, eggs, and vegetables help reduce anxiety.
According to the experts, it is also important that people include probiotics and good fat —Omega 3 fatty acids like the flax seeds, fish and coconut oil, all kinds of nuts and seeds — in the diet. “Coconut oil is not a trend today, but in Ayurveda, it has great benefits. If consumed on an empty stomach, the nutrients sit on the tissues that have been damaged by stress. When it seals your gut lining, the nutrients pass through beautifully without allowing viruses that damage your brain,” enlightens Kothari.
As far as the probiotics are concerned, Shaikh notes that intestine and gut bacteria release hormones like serotonin are prominent in influencing the mood. “So if you eat probiotic-rich food, it will have a calming effect on the brain,” she adds.
Furthermore, the experts stress on a food platter inclusive of vitamins, protein, carbohydrates, and fats in order to keep one’s mental health in check, instead of binge eating junk food that provides instant but temporary calming relief.
“Fast food is damaging not only to the bacteria but offers terrible mood swings too. It starts with small things like nervousness, anxiety, and extreme mood swings. That is because they are simple carbohydrates, which in turn creates acidity in the gut, and in turn leads to mental illness,” Kothari notes.
In order to avoid transitory happiness, dietitians urge people to not look at the brain and body as two different entities and opt for a holistic approach. By indulging in eating right, exercise and proper sleep, Kothari says, “The happy hormones — dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins — are released in the body, out of which 90 percent is produced in the gut. So if you are not happy today, it’s because the social hormone is missing. Be around happy people and in the environment that cherishes you,” she concludes.