The simple act of eating healthy plant based holds promise to depression prevention

Said not me, but a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.

. . .

Last month I went to a career networking event – nothing about the event itself changed, but I did.

I’ve always liked going to events for the extra perk of getting free food. I didn’t care about whether they are junk food because free = good.

But over the last year, I have become a lot more mindful about the food I put into my body, after reading research articles on the health implications of the standard American diet, processed food, meat, and dairy…

I was constantly in shock of how much misinformation we hold regarding health. I mean, just look at the number of fad diets out there if you don’t believe me!

I got to the networking event. Everyone was having a great time with alcohol and free food. In the past, I would too. But I wasn’t so happy looking at the food options — all sorts of deep fried finger foods: spring rolls, chicken wings, beef pies, pork dim sims, chicken nuggets, fries …

fried-chicken

Everyone else looked so happy, voluntarily ingesting one piece after another, while sipping some delicious alcohol.

But … are we really happy?

According to the World Health Organization, 300 million people around the world have depression. Nearly 50% of all people diagnosed with depression also experience an anxiety disorder. It’s estimated that 15% of the adult population will experience depression at some point in life.

I am not saying that bad eating habits and unhealthy food cause depression (although likely true), but it is a common practice for depressed people to indulge in some addictively yummy junk food — ice cream, chips, soft drinks etc. Once it becomes a habit, the occasional cheat meals naturally become the default, even when we are not feeling depressed.

And what does that lead to?

Unhealthy diet contributes to approximately 678,000 deaths each year in the U.S. due to nutrition- and obesity-related diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. 1 In the last 30 years, obesity rates have doubled in adults, tripled in children, and quadrupled in adolescents.

Does what we put into our body affect how we feel, physically and mentally? Of course it does! When you don’t treat your car nicely by giving it the cheapest, crappiest fuel, will you expect it to run far?

broken car analogy to food

One day, the car will break down because of all the crap it was fed. You will have to dump in a lot of money to fix it, just like fixing depression and anxiety with a bunch of drugs that don’t always work.

But…why didn’t you just put in some good fuel in the first place?

The effects of healthy diets on mood have been known for some time but many people (including doctors) will rather turn to the “safer” option of medications to treat disorders like depression. This is often simply because the impact of dietary modification as a treatment or intervention strategy is not straightforward to quantify and the evidence seems to be “up in the air”.

But, a new Australian study has looked at 16 randomized control trials with outcome data for 45,826 participants and come back with a simple, clear message:

“If you want to feel better, eat less junk.”

What we call “comfort food”, high in sugar and fat, activate our brain’s reward center. This is just similar to smoking and drug addiction — while we may feel some temporary pleasure, it doesn’t benefit us in the long run.

Instead, eating nutrient-dense foods that are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, while reducing processed foods with refined sugars are truly beneficial, in the short and long term. Health-promoting whole foods should be consumed daily, in great variety and abundantly.

How should your plate look like?

A variety of plant-based whole foods: vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, legumes, grains making up a colorful palette.

vegan palette food plate

While further research is always required to understand the specific mechanisms underlying the effect, we are slowly getting a more comprehensive picture of how food affects the whole body, one that includes our massive gut microbiome. Changing what we eat firstly affects the plethora of bacteria living in our bellies.

While the finding that “Junk food is bad, plants are good” isn’t so new, this meta-analysis is still a significant step forward in really implementing dietary interventions for mood disorders such as depression.

If you are already eating plant-based, amazing! If you are considering and need more evidence, there are plenty:

The best diet for depression“, “Improving mood through diet” by Nutritionfacts.org

Foods that fight depression” by Physicians committee for responsible medicine

Knowing something works is one matter, but using it for real is another

Health practitioners usually have a heavy influence on what approaches patients take to improve their health. Doctors, dietitians, psychologists, therapists, coaches, and the plant-based community should take up the responsibility to be early adopters of lifestyle changes as disease intervention and treatment.

With this new study, health practitioners should be more confident in prescribing dietary interventions alongside other treatment options.

Of course, health is yours. No matter what the doctor, or the dietitian, or the internet says, you hold the ultimate choice of what to put in your body.

You may not be able to decide what kinds of food appear in an event you have to attend, but you can choose to avoid eating them and seek healthier alternatives.

When depression and anxiety kick in, you may feel like you don’t have control over your mind. But don’t just give up taking the control back and indulge in fast food for temporary pleasure.

Seek professional help, learn some nutrition from credible sources, and make small changes every day! Of course, exercise is another key element for improving your mood and overall health 🙂

healthy vegan

References

https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/publishahead/The_effects_of_dietary_improvement_on_symptoms_of.98656.aspx

https://cspinet.org/eating-healthy/why-good-nutrition-important

https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellness/the-simple-change-we-can-make-to-reduce-the-risk-of-depression-20190204-p50vmu.html

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About the author
healthy vegan palette writer Rainie

Rainie is a health, fitness and nutrition enthusiastic. She studied a bachelor of Biomedical Sciences degree to learn all about the human body and continued to pursue higher research training in a neuroscience laboratory to investigate how the brain develops. Rainie is now using the research skills she learned in the science degree to bring evidence-based nutrition practice to more health-conscious people.

 


Top 5 Things You Need To Know About Gut Health

All diseases begin in the gut

Normally, we are very superficial and we tend to concern ourselves more when we have external problems, rather than internal problems. For example, wouldn’t you be more scared that you scarred your face rather than having poor gut health?

 

It’s funny when you think about it. We got it the wrong way, it is so much more important to take care of our inner organs which will help the maintenance and recovery of our whole body.

 

How much effort have you put in to take care of your GUT (Gastrointestinal tract)? Our gut compared to everything else in the body ‘combined’, has 10 times the amount of cells. Can you believe that?

 

That’s HUGE. If that isn’t a sign that we need to take care of this super factory that we have inside of us. I don’t know what is.  

 

Why is our Gut Bacteria crucial for our well being?

 

The importance of gut health has long been realised. Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine once said “All diseases begin in the gut!”

 

Now, latest research studies have shown that not only is our gut linked to diseases, it is even connected to our brain, hence the name given to our gut “The second brain“. Wow, HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?? 

GUT-BRAIN AXIS – Microbially-produced neurotransmitters and other metabolites reach the brain directly through the vagus nerve!

 

This means that who we are, how we react, and how we feel are dependent by the quality of bacteria in our gut? Yes, kind of.

 

Dr. Michael Gregor has some really nice evidence based videos on how we can improve mood through diet. I highly recommend that you check them out after reading this blog. But the good news is – Vegetarians and vegans have significantly better depression, anxiety, stress scale. In other words, plant powered people are happier!

 

If you want to indulge in a philosophical thought for a moment, think about – are we really in control of ourselves, or are our gut microbes more in control of us?

 

Fancy that as a conversation topic over coffee. 

 

Getting back to the point of the article, the gut is the most amazing thing ever! This led me to pay $350 to test my own microbiome by giving a local company called Microba my stool sample.

 

I received my test results, i booked a consultation with a Dietitian (why not learn from others in the same profession right, always intrigued by how other dietitians talk the talk), to find out the practical tips of what I can do to improve my microbiota.

 

The Top 5 Things You Need To Know About Your Gut Bacteria

 

If you are a video person, here is a short video with an overview of the following 5 points 

5 Things You Need to Know About Gut Health – 2018 Edition

 

Number 1 – Microbial composition during early development is crucial

 

We used to think that the uterus and fetus are sterile, and the first time a baby encounters any microbes is upon birth. Increasing evidence on suggest that human microbiota is seeded before birth.

 

After birth, the microbial diversity increases dramatically. Because of this initial colonisation of microbiota runs in parallel with immune system maturation and brain development, the first 1000 days are considered critical for a newborn.

 

After the baby is weaned and starts eating food, this is when the microbiota converges toward an adult-like microbiota. By 3-5 years old, the composition of the gut microbiota resembles that of an adult and is relatively stable thereafter.

 

Alteration in the development of the gut microbiota of a newborn has been demonstrated to predispose to diseases later in life in a few studies. Although we are waiting for more research to uncover the full effect of initial microbiota development, it can be agreed upon that setting up a good initial gut ecosystem during the first 1000 days is critical.

 

If you are reading this post, you have past the age of altering the initial microbial colonisation (sorry!). We’ll get to how you can still improve it with lifestyle later. But now, how can you set up a good initial gut ecosystem for your babies?

 

Number 2 – Setting up a good initial gut ecosystem

 

To ensure a good initial microbial colonisation process, the mum plays the most important role (oh pressure, ladies).

 

The major factors that contribute to microbial colonisation include

  • Maternal microbiota
  • Mode of birth
  • Feeding
  • Preterm birth
  • Antibiotic treatment.

 

Maternal microbiota

We are at a very exciting time. It is only recently that scientists discovered microbial genes in the placenta, which suggests the possibility of maternal-offspring exchange of microbiota.

 

We still know very little about the microbes that traverse the placenta, whether they persist in the infant and what roles they play exactly. Nevertheless, ladies should aim to have a high quality gut microbiota before and during pregnancy.

Mode of birth

The first major microbial exposure occurs during birth. Naturally born infants are colonised by the vaginal and fecal bacteria coming from the mother. Infants born via C-section are instead colonised with microbes associated with the skin and the hospital environment.

 

It is suggested that the microbiota composition in these infants may remain disturbed for months or even years. So it is crucial that if a baby has to be born via C-section, he or she gets a vaginal swab to mimic the birth canal environment.

 

Feeding

A major source for bacterial colonisation of the infant gut is through bacteria in the mother’s milk, and it has been proposed that this mode of colonisation plays a major role in the child’s health status.

 

The milk microbiota is reported to contain more than 700 species of bacteria and an abundance of complex oligosaccharides with prebiotic activity, stimulating the growth of specific bacterial groups.

 

Therefore, it is highly recommended that mums try to breastfeed newborns to provide the best support of infant microbial colonisation. If breastfeeding is not possible, choosing the right formula becomes important. Nowadays, some formula companies are taking into consideration the critical gut colonisation process and are trying to mimic the breast milk by adding pre- and probiotics. It is encouraged that mums choose such formula as well as provide newborns with additional pre- and probiotic supplementation.

 

Pre-term birth

This might sound scary, but in preterm infants, the microbiota is characterized by reduced diversity and higher levels of potentially pathogenic bacteria compared with full-term infants.

 

Therefore, pre-term babies need extra care. Breastfeeding is highly encouraged, so are additional pre- and probiotic supplementation.

 

Antibiotic treatment 

Antibiotic treatment can dramatically disturb an adult’s gut environment, let alone a fragile newborn. Even short-term antibiotic treatment can significantly affect the development of the infant gut microbiota.

 

As a result, antibiotic treatment should be avoided as much as possible. If necessary, make sure the baby get plenty of breast milk and additional pre- and probiotic supplementation.

 

I thought you might be scared at this point, but don’t be! Try your best to prevent and restore the gut ecosystem for your baby by using the following guidelines!

 

influence microbiota development

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4464665/

 

Number 3 – Are Pro-biotics Effective?

 

Well, you’re either going to love me or hate me with this next part I’m going to say. Unless you have been sick for a very long time, or had a long streak of antibiotics, or have irritable bowel syndromes such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation or gas, probiotic supplements for the healthy people out there could be a waste of money.

 

Here’s why.

 

1. Most bacterial strains are likely dead by the time we ingest them due to long/inappropriate storage before purchase. 

 

2. Most of the probiotics don’t even make it down there, and even if it did, it is very hard for our gut ecosystem to accept new strands of bacteria and stay.

As a result, the effects of probiotics are most often transient. Remember what was said before, the gut microbiota is relatively stable after 3-5 years old. Unless you take probiotics on a daily basis, the new bacterial strains are unlikely to stay in your gut.

 

Number 4 – How to improve your gut health?

 

Once the gut microbiota is established after 3-5 years old, the composition is relatively stable throughout adult life, but, BUT

 

The gut environment can be still be altered as a result of bacterial infections, antibiotic treatment, lifestyle, surgical, and a long-term change in diet.

 

So save your money, and work on your diet and lifestyle instead!

 

The best way to grow healthy bacteria is to eat plant-based fibres. Dietary fibres are the preferred fuel for healthy bacteria and they often serve as beneficial natural prebiotics! No need to spend money when you can get it from nature!

 

In return, the healthy bacteria thriving on the plant fuel happily produce short-chain fatty acid and protect against allergic inflammation, heart diseases, and so on.

 

What’s the best way of getting lots of dietary fibre?

 

Eat a variety of whole foods from core food groups (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds). Most importantly, choose different colours, aim for a beautiful food palette! If you don’t know yet, this is the reason that we are called Vegan PaletteEating a variety of colourful foods is our philosophy!

Vegan Palette's guide to healthy vegan diet

 

Number 5 –  High bacterial richness – What? Why? How?


Lastly, you want aim for a high gut bacterial richness. Let me explain why.

 

Studies found that people tend to fall into one of two groups:

High gut “bacterial richness” group: those with a variety of types of gut bacteria

Low gut “bacterial richness” group: those with a few types of gut bacteria

 

What’s the difference?

 

Compared to high bacterial richness individuals, those with low bacterial richness have more body fat, insulin resistance and increased likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as higher levels of inflammatory markers.

 

How do make sure you are in the high gut “bacterial richness” group?

 

Simple – increase our fruit and vegetable intake. This seemingly simple approach has been associated with high bacterial richness in a number of studies.

 

Don’t try to take a shortcut by just taking fibre-containing supplements because they don’t seem to increase richness! The complexity of whole foods such as grains could support a variety of bacterial types, increasing our gut bacterial richness. Remember, real foods don’t just contain fibre, but a variety of beneficial phytonutrients!

 

By the way, Dr. Michael Gregor from Nutritionfacts.org has an in-depth video explaining the original research that showed how whole grains can increase our gut bacterial richness! I recommend you watch it later – Gut microbiome – Strike it rich with whole grains.

 

This is important because your body will perform at the lowest level of healthy bacteria, and not fully utilising the capabilities of the bacteria with high strands. It’s like playing footy, New Zealand is one of the best teams because all the players work together. It is the same with our gut, we need our healthy bacteria to work together, and to do that, we need an even spread of healthy bacteria, not too much and not too little. 

 

Conclusion

There you have it. How important it is to take care of gut, from before birth to every single day of our adult life! The big and small decisions we make, determine how healthy our gut is. We are what we eat! 

 

As a final reminder, keep this timeline in mind!

microbiota development

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315782/

 

Thank you for reading all this, we hope it has helped you understand how you can take better care of the gut microbiota from today. We’ll leave you with an inspirational quote:

“The biggest influence you can have on the state of your gut lining, and a healthy microbiome, is your diet—which you control.” Jeannette Hyde

 

Let us know how your gut health journey goes from here. Comment below what you liked about this article, and what topic you would like us to cover next! 

 

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References

Mueller NT, Bakacs E,Combellick J, Grigoryan Z, Dominguez-Bello MG. (2015). The infant microbiome development: mom matters. Trends in Molecular Medicine. 21(2):109-117. doi:10.1016/j.molmed.2014.12.002.

Goldsmith F, O’Sullivan A, Smilowitz JT & Freeman SL. Lactation and Intestinal Microbiota: How Early Diet Shapes the Infant Gut. Journal of Mammary (2015). Gland Biology and Neoplasia. 20 (3-4): 149-58. doi: 10.1007/s10911-015-9335-2.

Rodríguez JM, Murphy K, Stanton C, et al. (2015). The composition of the gut microbiota throughout life, with an emphasis on early life. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. 26:10.3402/mehd.v26.26050. doi:10.3402/mehd.v26.26050.

Sharon, G., Garg, N., Debelius, J., Knight, R., Dorrestein, P. C., & Mazmanian, S. K. (2014). Specialized metabolites from the microbiome in health and disease. Cell Metabolism, 20(5), 719–730. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2014.10.016

Timothy G. Dinan, Roman M. Stilling, Catherine Stanton & John F. Cryan. (2015). Collective unconscious: How gut microbes shape human behavior. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 63: 1- 9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.02.021

 

About the author


Raymond_dietitian_from_Vegan_Palette_with_food_plate

Raymond Setiadi is an Australian Accredited Practising Dietitian and is the founder of Vegan Palette,  a Brisbane-based dietitian practice.

As an expert in whole food plant-based nutrition and fat loss strategies, Raymond has a comprehensive understanding of the interplay between food,  human physiology, goal-directed psychology, and how they all play a pivotal role in one’s pursuit of optimal health.