There are an increasing number of professional publications citing the relationship between diet and mental health, with many claiming that certain foods – such as omega 3 oils, lean protein and wholegrain foods – can actually help to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders.
When we learn that the mind and the gut are connected through the vagus nerve, it’s hardly surprising that if you feed your body crap, you’re going to feel crap. Throw in the fact that many of the convenience foods now available in shops are processed and contain chemicals and high levels of sugar that our bodies weren’t made to digest, it’s hardly surprising that the World Health Organisation estimates that one in four people in the world will suffer from a mental health disorder at some point in their lives.
I want to take this one step further to look at the relationship between food intolerances and mental health. I myself am no stranger to feelings of anxiety and bouts of low mood but considering my diet consists of healthy, never processed food, the evidence doesn’t stack up. So where did this stem from?
It was on my recent holiday in Italy when it suddenly struck me. Since discovering my intolerance to dairy and cutting it out, I’ve never felt better – both physically and mentally. In this post, I speak about the first time I had dairy since cutting it out and I report the fact that the week after, I felt incredibly lethargic and my mood was low. I found it hard to get up in the morning and my head wasn’t in my work like it usually is.
On the third day of our time in Italy, we were walking around Florence having been unable to avoid dairy in my diet since being there. My stomach had flared up to the size of a pregnant lady about to drop. I was attempting to hold it in but it was just so uncomfortable that at one point, I thought I might just let it hang out and not be concerned if people thought I was ‘with child’! Not surprising then, I wasn’t feeling on top of the world. I was very quiet, couldn’t make any decisions and had no patience for the hordes of people lining the streets. I also felt very irritable and didn’t want anyone round me.
What does this tell me? You might already have a very ‘clean’ and ‘healthy’ diet consisting purely of fresh food, but if your gut doesn’t like one particular food group within this class of ‘healthy’ ingredients, it may well have a negative impact on your mental health.
If I could ask you to take away one thing from this article, it would be to consider how the food you put into your body impacts your mental health. On those days where it’s so much harder to drag yourself out of bed to get to work, what had you eaten the day before? When your Sunday blues hit rock bottom, is it because you had a heavy Saturday night ending at McDonalds? Is there a specific food group that might trigger you to feel anxious or low? If so, it could be worth taking a food intolerance test.
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NB. This article is purely based on my experience and opinion – I do not claim to be a nutritionist or mental health specialist!