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Food and Mood: What Is Nutritional Psychiatry?

Relevance of Ayurveda for having foods to create peace and wellness


Imagine two people, person A and person B

  • Person A typically eats simple carbohydrates, high sodium, and high saturated fat, with small amount of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, mainly from packaged and factory produced foods.
  • Person B typically eats whole grains, lean protein, plenty of fresh produce, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, lots of fibre, probiotics, vitamins and minerals, and all of these come mainly from whole-food sources, coming from farm.

Do you think

  • The food choices of person A and person B will influence their outward appearances, weight and shape?
  • The food choices of person A and person B will influence their mental state and behaviour?

Answer to both these questions is YES!


In 21st-century public health, especially mental health disorders are a growing global concern. The relationship between diet, brain function and the risk of mental disorders has been the subject of intense research in recent years.


There are many high-quality studies, that have linked taking healthful dietary patterns with lowered risk of anxiety and/or depression.


And there is an emerging research area called “Nutritional Psychiatry”. It studies the gut-brain-axis. Research on this matter helps to better understand the relation between food and mood, sleep quality, cognition, and mental health in general.


A Harvard research article on Food and Mood connection?” talks about how certain dietary patterns may protect mental health.


Food for Good Mental Health


Another research paper explains that many mental health conditions are caused by inflammation in the brain. This inflammatory response may be associated with a lack of nutrients. Recent research has shown that food supplements such as zinc, magnesium, omega 3, and vitamins B and D3 can help improve people’s mood, relieve anxiety and depression and improve the mental capacity of people with Alzheimer’s.


Another review paper explains that “A consistent evidence base from the observational literature confirms that the quality of individuals’ diets is related to their risk for common mental disorders, such as depression.”


The brain operates at a very high metabolic rate, using a substantial proportion of the body’s energy and nutrient intake. The structure and function of the brain is dependent upon amino acids, fats, vitamins and minerals and trace elements. Similarly, the functioning of the immune system is significant to psychiatric disorders and strongly influenced by diet and other lifestyle factors.


According to research, diagnosable depression and anxiety are also outcomes associated with, and drivers of, cardiovascular and other chronic disease, a multidisciplinary approach to prevention and treatment is necessary. The results of studies involving adults with depression indicate that treatment outcomes from standard first-line antidepressant or psychotherapy interventions are not universally adequate.


Compromised mental health in both the broad sense (quality of life) and the more narrow clinical sense (disorders that are diagnosable) is highly associated with Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), and poor physical health is a particularly strong predictor of poor mental health. One need only look at any medical specialty, from cardiology and dermatology to gastroenterology and rheumatology, and it is easy to see how mental health presents itself as a variable of importance.


Here is relevant to talk about Ayurvedic perspective of food.

From Ayurvedic perspective, concept of Ahara (Life Supporting Diet) concerns itself with the effects of various types of food on the quality of the mind, the digestion and the balance of the doshas. In Ayurveda the emphasize is on a sattvic diet for healthy living, particularly for keeping our minds clear, happy and at peace.


Ayurveda firmly believes that good health starts with proper metabolism of food and good robust digestion. It is based on the premise that food, when consumed according to our personal physiological needs, acts like a medicine balancing our metabolism and promoting vitality. Good nutrition is a simple way to create good mental health.


According to Ayurveda, there are foods that bring dullness and inertia, or agitation and aggression or peace and wellness. Understanding what these foods are, and how they affect our wellbeing is part of preventive health and can be used to support us at physical, mental, emotional, and Spiritual level.

We talk about qualities of mind – Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. These qualities bring peace and inner harmony, agitation and aggression or dullness and inertia respectively in the mind. We would like to choose foods that bring appropriate quality of mind. Typically in our lifestyle, we are either suffering from too much activity of mind, typically bringing stress, worry and anxiety or experiencing dullness of the mind. We are then looking for peace and wellness and inner balance. Our foods, not just the physical food that we take in, but also what we take in through our senses – the music we hear or the movies we watch, also affect the quality of mind.


Understanding about this concept and then using it for choosing “right foods” can be important proactive in working on preventative health.


How are you choosing your food? Is it about nutrition and wellbeing? Is it about time management? Is it about soothing emotions, is it about pleasure, is it about visuals of food? Or is it about distraction for the mind and boredom? There are many reasons why we eat.


If you understand the science of eating, you can reengineer the way you think about food and the way you diet for optimal health, without compromising some of the other aspects of why we eat.

According to Ayurveda, food is our first medicine.


Dietary practices and nutrition in Ayurveda encourage a conscious way of living and eating. What you eat, where you eat, how was the food cooked and served, will all have an effect on your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.


Learn about foods and what and how to eat for wellness and peace in our online LIVE program. “Foods for peace and wellness”, which is part of self Care with Ayurveda” online program. Check online or contact us by email.


About The Author

Picture of Neerja Ahuja

Neerja Ahuja

Neerja is a Trained Consultant, Yoga Therapist and Course Facilitator since 2001, teaching Ayurveda and running her clinical practice. Principal Consultant, Director and Course Facilitator at Ayurveda Awareness Centre (AAC) www.ayurveda-awareness.com.au , Adv. Dip. in Ayu., Dip in Human Values , M.A. (Mathematical Statistics), Grad. Dip. (Computing)

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