If you’re thinking about improving the nutritional value of your diet, you may be motivated to do so by the solitary goal of losing weight.
However, most of us do not give enough consideration to the effect the food we eat can have on the rest of the body. After all, whilst food may be in your mouth for a mere matter of seconds, in remains in the body for at least 8 hours.
During that time, our food intake has a large influence over many disparate elements of the body such as the gut, the brain and it can even affect the way we feel through our hormones.
So how exactly does the food we consume interact with our body’s systems?
How Food Intake Effects the Gut
Your human microbiome, or gut environment, is home to over 100 trillion bacteria that each play a role in your overall health.
In order to nurture your so-called “friendly” bacteria, they need to be supplied with a wide variety of nutrients for nourishment and growth. This helps them to destroy any harmful bacteria, prevents inflammation and aids the digestion process.
Unfortunately, the Western diet has lost much of its diversity, with 75% of our foodstuffs originating from just 12 plant and 5 animal species, leading to the rise of processed and ultra-processed foods made with the help of laboratories.
This has a negative effect on your gut and its helpful bacteria. These types of foods contribute to inflammation of the gut lining, helping to bring about a state of oxidative stress.
This is the process whereby there aren’t enough bacteria to remove the harmful by-products associated with these low quality foods (such as free radicals). This creates a harmful chemical imbalance which can lead to diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, colitis and even bowel cancer.
By eating a wide variety of foods including: whole grains, fruit, vegetables, fish, lean meats and probiotics (such as yoghurt), you can protect the gut’s precariously balanced bacteria ecosystem and safeguard yourself against inflammation and possible disease.
Why What We Eat Has Such an Effect On the Brain
What you may not know is that your gut, as well as being full of bacteria, is also highly intelligent.
There are as many brain cells in your gut as there are in a cat’s brain. What’s more, they all report back to your brain via the vagus nerve system.
As we’ve just mentioned, eating highly-processed foods leads to the creation of inflammatory cells. When these cells pass through into the brain they can cause tissue damage, resulting in slowed cognitive function, memory recall issues, and attention deficits.
Your brain isn’t able to get rid of free radicals and inflammatory cells as well as the gut, so even small amounts found within the brain can have a significant effect.
This damage has been used to explain why those who consume processed foods more often have higher rates of mental health disorders such as depression. In fact, those who follow a Mediterranean and Japanese diet have a 35% lower chance of developing depression compared with those who eat a traditional Western diet.
But why does what we eat have such an effect on the way we think and feel?
How What We Eat Influences Our Emotions
Your moods are heavily influenced by chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters.
Serotonin is one such neurotransmitter that’s responsible for regulating our sleep, appetite, mood and pain. You may have heard of it before as it’s used in anti-depressants (SSRIs) to help those suffering from depression.
What many people do not know is that 95% of your serotonin is actually made in your gut which is lined with hundreds of millions of nerve cells. Therefore, your gut isn’t only responsible for digestion, but it also has a bearing on your moods.
Those millions of nerve cells depend on your “friendly” bacteria to function effectively, since their function is to prevent inflammation and allow neural pathways to flow from the gut to the areas of the brain that control your mood.
When those pathways get blocked due to the consumption of ultra-processed foods, it can cause mental complications such as depression. This is why an analysis of more than 41 studies has shown that eating junk food almost certainly increases your chance of developing depression.
What’s also interesting is how diet-based treatment for depression is becoming more effective than traditional social support services.
In a 2018 study, a group of researchers found that by just altering their participants’ diet, 30% were able to achieve complete clinical remission from depression. The control group who were offered social support only achieved 8% in comparison.
What Changes Should You Make to Your Diet?
As we’ve just demonstrated, what you eat has a profound effect on your body.
Our gut has a much bigger role to play in our body’s ecosystem than just digestion, and there is increasing evidence to suggest that our modern diets are a big reason behind the increases in mental health disorders such as depression witnessed across the Western world.
You should aim to reduce, or cut out completely, processed and ultra-processed foods that contain added salt, refined sugar and other toxic chemicals that the body struggles to remove during digestion.
If you think that you are suffering from a gut-related health issue use our symptom checker found on the DocHQ app to receive helpful information regarding your medical complaint.
Once you’ve downloaded the app via the App store or Google play , you can also gain access to great discounts on healthier food choices from some of the country’s best known brands.
DocHQ Ltd is a Health Tech company improving choices. We help you connect efficiently to health support and advice whether you are at home, work or travelling. See our website for our services or call us on 0330 088 0645.