You have heard from us time and time again that food is fuel for your body – in order to reach our fitness goals, we have to give our body the nutrients that it needs to function. Without enough protein and carbohydrates, we won’t have the energy to make it through our workouts and our muscles won’t have what they need to grow. We know that we need the right foods to help us physically, but can food also affect us mentally and emotionally?
Many studies have linked consumption of artificial sweeteners to increased risk for depression. A 2014 study found that older adults who consumed beverages with artificial sweeteners reported statistically significant higher levels of depression and anxiety, where as those who drank unsweetened tea or coffee were found to have lower rates of depressive symptoms. A similar study conducted in Canada in 2016 found that high consumption of artificial sweeteners was linked to higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, and mental distress. This was especially true among women. In fact, the study found that women who drank at least one diet soda per day had a 1.38 times higher chance of having depression.
Our gut is where the majority of our body’s serotonin is made and our digestive tract is lined with millions of neurons that not only help us digest the food we eat, but also affect how our mood is regulated. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects our feelings of happiness and well being, helps to regulate our sleep and appetite, and helps to inhibit pain. The production of serotonin and how well the neurons in our digestive system are working are affected by what we put into our gut… this is often why we associate food with a positive feeling! The “good bacteria” in our gut help keep things working properly, so our production of serotonin and how we digest our food is regulated well when our gut bacteria are balanced. When we disrupt the bacteria and pH balance in our digestive tract, our mood is affected as the production of serotonin decreases. This decrease in serotonin leads to feelings of sadness, depression, and anxiety. To make matters more complicated, because we associate food with happiness we often turn to food when we are feeling down, which can lead to further negative feelings.
Think of your brain like a racecar – when properly cared for and fueled with high quality gasoline, the racecar functions well; but if we were to neglect the oil changes and fuel the car with low quality fuel, we would have a lot more break downs and problems. The same is true for our bodies and minds! When we choose food that is processed and full of artificial ingredients, we disrupt the balance within our digestive tract, leading to feelings of depression. However, if we choose to fuel our bodies with whole foods, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients then our bodies stay working in the best way and we feel better both physically and mentally!
Selhub, E. (2014). Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
Guo X, Park Y, Freedman ND, Sinha R, Hollenbeck AR, Blair A, et al. (2014) Sweetened Beverages, Coffee, and Tea and Depression Risk among Older US Adults. PLoS ONE 9(4): e94715. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0094715
Image by: Eric Wainwright. Wainwright Images. 2018.