I’m Dr Rupy Aujla and I'm a firm believer that both food and lifestyle have a powerful effect on health.
Two years ago, I launched The Doctor’s Kitchen, where I create recipes and talk about the clinical research behind the ingredients I use.
My aim is to inspire everybody about the beauty of food and medicinal effects of eating well.
Push Doctor have asked me to talk about how food can affect your mental health, so I’ve come up with some tips to show you how what you eat can have an effect on your mood.
1. Look after your gut
The microbiome refers to the collection of microbes in and around your body, largely concentrated in your gut.
We’re learning so much more about how this amazing population of organisms has a huge effect on every aspect of health.
They digest food for us, release hormones and regulate sugar balance, as well as many other functions.
Using the limited knowledge we currently have about the microbiome, it’s reasonable to suggest that ‘nurturing’ it using food may have a positive effect on your mental health.
You can do this in a variety of ways:
- Eat a nutrient-dense and varied diet, with many colourful vegetables
- Eat specialised types of fibre, from sources such as chicory, garlic and artichokes
- Eat probiotic foods such as kraut, fermented vegetables and types of yoghurt
2. Stick to ‘good’ fats
Traditionally, we have steered clear of all fats for fear of their negative effects on heart health. Mental health hasn’t really entered the equation.
We now know that it’s probably certain types of fats, commonly found in processed foods and deep fried items, that cause ill health.
Fats from whole sources such as walnuts, sunflower seeds and avocado are good for your heart, and they contain special types of fatty acids that have been shown to improve behaviour and mood too.
We can get these special types of fats, like omega-3, by eating a diet that includes these plant sources of fat, as well as oily fish such as mackerel and salmon.
3. Keep inflammation down
Chronic inflammation (swelling) is a concept that is becoming recognised as an underlying cause of mental health issues.
It is fuelled by multiple stress factors, such as our environment and poor food choices.
We can counteract the effects and cause of inflammation using a nutrient dense diet that is low in added sugar and high in colourful fruits and vegetables.
These plant products contain a variety of natural chemicals that have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Eating a rainbow of food including berries, greens, beetroot, broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus can have a bigger effect on mental health than we previously thought.
4. Ask about supplements
Beyond just food, there is a suggestion that supplements such as Vitamins B and D may have positive effects on mental health.
I always suggest discussing any sort of supplementation with your practitioner to see if it’s necessary. Vitamin D, in particular, appears to be low in many people in the UK, so it’s one I always suggest is worth checking.
5. Diet is one of many factors
In many cases, we require more than a collection of foods with particular compounds to deal with something as complicated as mental health. It is really important to keep sight of this.
Getting the right help from your doctor is key. Psychotherapy, support groups and medication can all have a role.
Although lifestyle is incredibly important, please do not try and treat mood related disorders (or any condition for that matter) with food alone.
Where appropriate, I address diet and lifestyle with all of my patients suffering mental health problems and I’m confident that these interventions have positive effects for most people.
What other nutrients should you look out for?
Will Hawkins, Push Doctor nutritionist
Found in: meat, eggs, seafood, green leafy vegetables, legumes and whole grains
Studies have shown that a deficiency in B vitamins (particularly B12) can be linked to depression.
It’s well documented that B vitamins may have mood-boosting properties, so you should aim for a diet rich in B12, B6 and folic acid.
Found in: sunlight, bread, fruit juices, milk, leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds
Vitamin D is needed for brain development and function, and it’s sometimes associated with depression and other mood disorders.
We get most of our Vitamin D from the sun, but we don’t always get enough sunshine in the UK, so it’s important to top up your intake with food.
Found in: cod, nuts, walnuts and poultry
Selenium is an essential mineral that we only get from food. Many studies have shown a link between low selenium and depression, but the mechanism is unclear.
One theory is that selenium’s function as an antioxidant could be necessary for preventing or managing depression.
Found in: protein sources including chicken, beef, turkey, eggs, some dairy products and dark, leafy greens
Tryptophan is an amino acid that prompts your body to release hormones such as serotonin and dopamine, both of which are linked with boosting your mood.
Low tryptophan has been shown to trigger depressive symptoms in some people who have taken antidepressants.