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Breaking the Circular Mood-Food Connection

By Elliot Caleira

You have probably noticed that being stressed can cause you to make bad food and lifestyle choices, especially if you've ever tried to restrict calories or improve your diet. Despite what some people think, this tendency isn't all in your head or something that you can defeat with pure willpower. The truth is that the human body reacts to stress on a chemical and neurological level, and the best way to fight it is to recognize and understand what is happening when you are tempted to reach for some ramen noodles and a candy bar after a long, hard day. It is even more important to understand this connection if you suffer from chronic stress, which can lead to or worsen mental health issues such as depression.

What Exactly Should You Blame?

As one of the prime suspects contributing to human mood-food connections, the neurotransmitter Serotonin, which is almost entirely produced in the digestive tract, is exceptionally likely to respond to changes in diet. This is because its production depends on the "good" bacteria in the gut, and Serotonin is incredibly important as it is responsible for controlling pain, sleep, mood, and appetite. Therefore, keeping the gut healthy with probiotics ("good" bacteria) is very important when trying to improve your health, stress and diet, and this is one of many goals that a well-rounded health program like Le-Vel Thrive supplements helps achieve. Cortisol, insulin and ghrelin are also responsible for some of these bad feedback loops, and they have been shown to respond to stress and diet as well.

What Does the Research Actually Say?

Harvard Health Publishing, which is the publishing and media outlet for Harvard Medical School, has released many scientifically accurate articles relating to nutrition and the effects of diet on overall health. Focusing on studies including large observation groups and correctly noting patterns and associations instead of representing their findings as exact proof, which would be a sure sign of an unscientific method, Harvard has found links between food and mood that include correlations between obesity, depression and diet, as well as evidence that a Mediterranean-type diet results in a lowered risk of depression.

Compared to the average Western pattern diet (WPD), the Mediterranean style of eating and traditional Japanese diet both resulted in a reduced depression risk of 25-35%. This is believed to be due to both the avoidance of foods that may be harmful, such as sugar and red meats in excessive quantities in the WPD, and the additional nutrients provided by more diverse diets, such as beneficial vitamin D–rich foods. A higher intake of vitamin D was shown in a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2011) to yield a lower risk of depression among women.

Supplement the Good, Even if You Can't Always Avoid the Bad

While the ideal way to improve your health would be to severely restrict sugar, red meats, refined or processed foods and other items entering your body related to poor health outcomes, day in and day out, you are obviously not going to have a perfect diet all the time. Realistically, although you should always strive to improve your overall diet as best you can, you will make questionable food choices sometimes. This makes it particularly important to focus on supplementing the good nutrients and behaviors that have been linked to reducing stress and mental health issues, such as increasing vitamin D intake, meditation, positive socialization, exercising and finding other healthy outlets to minimize stress.

Such practices help to prevent the release of excess cortisol, thereby preventing life's stresses from affecting your diet and overall health. Also remember that you should be mindful and learn to recognize when you are stressed or experiencing a blood sugar crash that could affect what you reach towards for your next meal. Eating consistent, healthy meals and snacks helps to control your insulin production and stress level.

Elliot Caleira is a freelance writer in the self-mastery and health and wellness spaces. When he's not writing you'll find him cooking or teaching Portuguese classes. More articles by Elliot.

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