If you’re thinking nutritional psychiatry might be for you, here’s what you need to know:
First, what is nutritional psychiatry?
Working from the premise that what we eat impacts our mood, nutritional psychiatrists, unlike regular psychiatrists, incorporate food into their overall treatment plans. Nutritional psychiatry leans on certain nutrient-packed foods—those filled with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, pro- and prebiotics, and protein—while cutting way back on nutritionally “empty” foods (sorry, sugar). These adjustments are designed to reduce brain inflammation, better regulate serotonin and dopamine, and influence a host of other mood-boosting reactions.
What does the brain have to do with our gut?
The brain connects to the gut through the vagus nerve. This “wandering nerve” acts as a two-way highway, constantly sending signals and chemicals back and forth between the brain and gut. One of these chemicals is serotonin, our natural mood regulator. We produce over 90 percent of our body’s serotonin outside the brain, in the gut—precisely where our food is digested and broken down into vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. This enables a natural symbiosis between food and the body’s brain chemistry.
So, what should we eat to feel better?
Good mental health depends on a well-nourished brain. Doctors offer several main guideposts for building a diet that supports a healthy mood. Bear in mind, though, that “well-nourished” does not mean “perfect.” So don’t stress about eating that juicy cheeseburger or occasional bowl of pasta.