Does food affect mood?
Updated: Mar 23
Depression and mental illness in general have been on the rise for the past several years. According to the National Institute of Health, 46.6 million U.S. adults in 2017 had a history of mental illness, while an alarming 49.5% of adolescents had a mental disorder. Thankfully, we live in a day and age where more and more people have access to medications and therapy, but few people know that, to make treatment even more effective, you simply can train yourself to be intentional about the foods you eat. As It turns out, when it comes to improving mood disorders and quality of life, a plant-based diet can be one of your greatest tools.
With all of the different diet plans out there, why plant-based? I did a little digging, and was shocked at all of the research and findings out there suggesting that plant-based diets affect mood and influence mental health in a uniquely positive way…..
According to nutrittionfacts.org, in cross-sectional and interventional studies, vegetarians reported more positive moods, while showing fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and mood disturbances than their fellow meat eaters. Higher levels of antioxidants in the blood from plant sources have been linked with a significantly lower risk of depression. Also, interestingly, higher consumption of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and soy, with a lower intake of dairy, meat, and fish have been tied to lower suicide rates.
A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry analyzed the dietary patterns and risk of depression in 3,486 participants over a five-year period. Those eating whole foods reported fewer symptoms of depression compared to those who ate mostly processed foods.
Researchers followed the diets of about 43,000 women without depression for approximately 12 years. Those who ate a more inflammatory diet, characterized by soda, refined grains, and meat, became depressed. “This finding suggests that chronic inflammation may underlie the association between diet and depression,” explained Dr. Michael Gregor.
And perhaps the most incredible findings I read about were from a prison in San Bernardino County, California. The Victor Valley prison facility began feeding inmates a plant-based diet, and the results were astounding. The diet completely changed the behaviors of the inmates. There was a dramatic drop in anger, violence and racial division. While the State of California had a recidivism rate of 95% (this is the percentage of former prisoners who are rearrested), the Victor Valley facility enjoyed a recidivism rate of less than 2%! Victor Valley nutrition services coordinator Julianne Aranda explained that “what we eat not only affects us physically, but it affects our mental attitude, our aggressiveness and our ability to make good decisions”.
What exactly does a plant-based diet entail?
A plant-based diet consists of cutting out all animal-ased foods, including meat, dairy, and eggs. That definition is pretty self-explanatory, but I had a couple more questions. I spoke with Iris Thieme, a certified health coach and plant-based nutritionist, to get some more specifics.
Is eating plant-based the same as eating vegan?
“Vegan and plant-based are basically the same; however, you can be vegan and eat unhealthy, processed foods like Oreos. I promote what is referred to as a whole food, plant-based diet that is full of foods the way nature intended for consumption—minimally processed. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.”
Where do fish fall into this diet? I know they boast a lot of Omega 3 fatty acids…
“Yes, the Omega 3’s in fish are beneficial, but the toxins and saturated fat and lack of antioxidants, fiber, etc. outweigh the benefits. Plant sources of omega 3’s found in flax, chia, and hemp seeds, walnuts and Brussel sprouts have all the benefits without the downsides.”
Iris explained that the link between food and mood is incredible. Sugar, extra fat, oil, salt…..we are starting to understand that these components of food all affect hormones and neurons, which in turn affect mood, in a remarkable way. “If you are looking for overall wellness, mental health, and want to feel more alive, try a plant-based diet”.
Dr. Eli Kope, a pioneer in ketamine treatment for mood disorders, recommends that patients “prepare the body and mind” for treatment by consuming a plant-based diet and plenty of water—optimally for six weeks prior to treatment. He identified sugar, in particular, as a substance that “dulls the mind”. Whether you begin to be intentional or “vigilant” about a healthy diet before or after your first ketamine treatment, it’s definitely worth a try, don’t you think?
Eli Kolp, et al., “Ketamine Psychedelic Psychotherapy: Focus on its Pharmacology, Phenomenology, and Clinical Applications” in The Ketamine Papers: Science Therapy, and Transformation (ed. Phil Wofson, M.D. and Glenn Hartelius, Ph.D, McNaughton & Gunn, Saline, MI 2016).
Iris Thieme, Certified health coach and plant based nutritionist