The rise of the field of nutritional psychiatry shows that what you eat affects your mental health. Learn how to boost your mood and multiply the benefits of your yoga practice with the right diet.
Ashley Simpson was only 27 years old, but she felt 80: mentally unstable, irritable, tired all the time. Ashley then began to experience more and more bouts of overwhelming anxiety. She was diagnosed with a mental disorder, but the medication prescribed by the doctors gave her little relief, so she decided to seek help from other specialists.
“I spoke with several naturopaths and they all suggested that I make dietary changes,” Ashley says. After three months, still struggling with anxiety and fatigue, she finally decided to radically change her eating habits. She ditched sugar, red meat and refined grains and moved on to a Mediterranean style of eating, focused on fruits, vegetables and fish. She began to notice improvements in a matter of weeks – and now, three years later, “I have never felt better; anxiety and depression have completely disappeared,” says Andria. “I have never felt as comfortable as I do now.”
Oriental physicians and naturopaths prescribe dietary changes to people with mental and physical illnesses, says intern Dorothy Foster, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and clinical assistant at the Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts Hospital. Now Western science and a growing body of research are coming to the conclusion that the foods we eat have a profound effect on our brains and mental health. An entirely new type of mental health research and treatment is emerging – nutritional psychiatry.
“For the past few decades, there has been a belief in psychiatry that the mind is separate from the body – that psychiatric illnesses such as depression exist in consciousness alone, and that what you consume inside your body was considered insignificant and irrelevant,” says Felice Jack. Felice Jacka, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the Dekin University School of Medicine in Melbourne, Australia, which focuses on nutritional psychiatry. “But research over the past hundred years is increasingly showing us that physical and mental health is an inseparable part of a whole.”
For example, in one study of several hundred Australian women, those who ate fruits, vegetables, unprocessed meats and whole grains were less likely to develop depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder than those who ate less healthy foods. Two large studies later in Norway and another in the United States confirmed this.
5 Easy Mood Recipes: Dinner Ideas
Do you want your yoga practice to benefit you even more? Try these six good mood recipes (including a few from our vegetarian friends), which boast foods to help balance your mind.
1. Al Forno Salmon Salad from Alexandria Crowe
The salad contains wild salmon, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. If your omega-3 levels are low, your brain cells may suffer and may not signal each other properly.
2. Kiwi and yogurt parfait with toasted coconut
This sweet yogurt can replace dessert while keeping your brain healthy. UCLA researchers recently found that eating fermented yogurt with probiotics twice a day for a month leads to increased activity in the areas of the brain that are responsible for emotions and sensations.
3. Spicy spinach with sunflower seeds
Spicy spinach will make your brain healthier and your practice more successful. People with depression often have low levels of folate (vitamin B9), which is found in spinach, asparagus and beans. The experts concluded that folate is important for the brain and mental health.
4. Salad with asparagus and white beans
Asparagus and white beans are “prebiotic foods” (other prebiotics include Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oat flour, unrefined wheat, and chicory root). Prebiotics support gut bacteria, which in turn support the lining of the digestive tract. This membrane acts as a barrier to toxins and aids digestion, which protects the brain by providing it with essential nutrients.
5. Blueberry and spinach smoothie
Dark berries contain antioxidants that help prevent oxidative stress, which can damage brain cells.