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Nourishing Your Mind Through Food

Have you ever been in situations that made you feel nauseous, or like there are “butterflies” in your stomach? That’s your gut and brain talking! This connection in all our bodies influences our gastrointestinal tract and our mood, and recently researchers have identified that our dietary habits can positively or negatively influence this connection.

Mental Health in Australia - how rampant is it?

According to the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, 1 in 5 Australians are estimated to experience a mental health condition in any given year. Experiencing and living with mental health conditions increases the risk for other medical conditions, and vice versa, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes.


Various styles of therapy and medications are the main tools to manage conditions like depression. However, there are limitations to these as individuals may not respond to their first intervention of medications. Additionally, only 1 in 3 may experience remission of mental health symptoms.


This is why current research has moved in the direction of investigating how lifestyle factors such as healthier dietary patterns could support the management of mental health conditions.

Mental health in Australia, Nourishing Your Mind Through Food with the help of a Dietitian

The Gut - are we really full of bacteria?

Short answer, yes!

Our gut is a passageway involved in digestion starting from the mouth all the way down to the anus and consists of major organs like the stomach and intestines. Along this passageway, the gut is lined with over 200 different species of bacteria, which makes up the gut microbiome. These bacteria can either be beneficial to our health, or harmful and potentially contribute to some diseases.

The Gut-Brain Connection

The gut–brain axis consists of a two-way communication pathway that monitors and integrates gut functions and links them to cognitive and emotional centres of the brain. This relationship has been implicated with several psychiatric disorders.

The gut microbiota produces and interacts with various compounds, including chemical messengers like serotonin, which plays crucial roles in regulating our mood and emotions. Serotonin, or "happy hormone," is primarily produced in the gut and influences mood, sleep, and appetite. Any disruptions in the gut microbiota can interfere with the production and signalling of these messengers, contributing to mental health disorders. 

A never-ending cycle

Due to the bidirectional nature of the gut-brain axis, the gut can influence the brain the same way the brain can influence the gut. For example, gastrointestinal discomfort can impact a person’s mood. Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety has been found to affect more than half of patients with IBS, and the reported rate of disordered eating in this population is as high as 25%.

How Mental Health Impacts Eating

When a person is struggling with depression, their eating habits often suffer. Some people may turn to food to lift their mood and overeat or indulge in unhealthier options. Others may be too exhausted to prepare balanced meals or that they've lost their appetite.

Anxiety on the other hand has been related to impulsive forms of food consumption like binge eating, which is often used to regulate and deal with negative emotions. On the contrary, some people may not feel hunger due to feeling preoccupied with anxious thoughts or feeling like tasks related to preparing food are too overwhelming. This causes them to have feelings of nausea just thinking about food or have a suppressed appetite due to increased levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the short-term. 

Importance of a Healthy Dietary Pattern 

So how exactly can food improve the communication between our gut and brain? Several intervention research studies have found that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods can help us maintain good mental health, due to their abundance of gut-loving fibre and emphasis on oily fish, legumes, raw-unsalted nuts and seeds, and extra virgin olive oil. All of this contributes to promoting the growth of beneficia gut bacteria.

A study that implemented a healthy dietary pattern with personalized dietary consultations with a Dietitian found that in people with moderate to severe depression, receiving professional dietary support and adhering to the dietary pattern allowed their depressive symptoms to decrease, and 32% of the group also managed to go into remission, which is an incredible result!

Dietitian-delivered nutrition therapy for mental health

Studies have shown that dietitian-delivered nutrition therapy can improve symptoms of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Now, you might be wondering, why specifically seek help from an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD)? APDs have university qualifications for their expertise in nutrition, armed with the knowledge to help you make the best dietary choices for your mental health.


When you consult with an APD, they'll work closely with you to develop a personalized plan tailored to your needs and preferences. Whether you're aiming to stay well or manage a diet-related illness, including mental health conditions, an APD will be your trusty guide on this journey to better health.

Where to start?

Figure out what is currently in your diet – could you add more fibre, healthy fats, and a variety of fruits and vegetables? Fruits and vegetables contain polyphenols (plant chemicals) that have anti-inflammatory properties to combat the inflammatory pathway of the gut-brain axis linked to negative mental health status. Click here for tips to include more veggies in your day.

Focus on improving your eating habits as a whole, rather than individual foods or nutrients. Strong evidence for healthy dietary patterns and habits that can be sustained long-term has been validated by several research studies.

So, if you're ready to nourish your mind and feed your soul, why not reach out to an OSCAR Care Group Accredited Practising Dietitians.

With their support, you can experience improved mood, reduced symptoms of stress and anxiety, and overall enhanced wellbeing. For more information about the process of seeing a Dietitian and tips for your appointments, click here. There are several different pathways to see a Dietitian and everyone has different goals. We’re here for you.



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