The link between food and mood
by Harry • 6 minutes read
Last updated: 23 Jun, 2022
Can your diet really help put you in a good mood? The short answer is yes. But how?
To put it simply: certain foods and nutrients can help your brain to make chemicals that impact your mood, attention and focus, while other foods can zap your energy entirely.
In this article, we explore the links between food and mood, uncovering just how certain food groups can influence the chemical production in your brain and how even the way you eat can affect how you feel.
Diet and Depression
A recent study suggests that a balanced, healthy diet alongside avoiding foods that cause inflammation may be effective against depression. Another study describes an Antidepressant Food Scale, which outlines 12 nutrients which could be related to the prevention and treatment of depression. Some of these foods are salmon, mussels, spinach, cauliflower, romaine lettuce, and strawberries.
Although a better diet can help you feel better, it is only one part of treatment. You could certainly experiment with some of the foods mentioned above and see if they have any correlation to your mood, but results are not guaranteed and there is much more to our moods than just the food we eat.
Besides specific foods, there are strategies we can practice and incorporate into the way we eat food which can certainly help maintain a better mood.
Without eating regularly, your blood sugars aren’t able to maintain a stable level and when they drop, you’ll likely feel tired, irritable and depressed in the long term. Eating regularly and choosing foods that release energy slowly, especially for breakfast, will help to keep your sugar levels steady throughout the day.
Healthy slow-release energy foods include: wholewheat pasta, rice, oats, whole grain bread, cereals, nuts and seeds.
Eating breakfast gets the day off to a good start.
Instead of cramming at lunch or dinner, which tends to result in overeating and feeling worse - try eating smaller portions spaced out more regularly throughout the day.
Avoid foods which make your blood sugar rise and fall rapidly, such as sweets, biscuits, sugary drinks, and alcohol.
5 a day
Now we all know about our five a day, and although it’s obvious they help to maintain a physically healthy body, they also contribute to our mental state.
Vegetables and fruit contain a lot of the minerals, vitamins and fibre we need to keep us mentally healthy. Having a variety of fruits and veg in your diet is a safe way to make sure you take on a good range of nutrients and keep your mind in tip top shape. The natural sugars in fruit are great for an energy boost if you need one - a great alternative to sweets or energy drinks.
Fresh, frozen, tinned, dried and juiced (one glass) fruits and vegetables all count towards your 5 a day.
As a general rule, one portion is about a handful or a small bowl.
Amino acids are the chemicals your brain needs to regulate thoughts and feelings and proteins are filled with them. You may have seen amino drinks or supplements advertised to help focus and productivity.
Caffeine may be a great stimulant if you need a boost at work, but it will be a short-lived high and you’ll soon come crashing down, leaving you tired and lethargic. If you don’t maintain a healthy relationship with caffeine, you may have more prolonged effects such as anxiety and a disturbed sleeping pattern, on top of withdrawal symptoms when you cut out caffeine from your diet.
Caffeine is in: tea, coffee, chocolate, cola and other manufactured energy drinks.
Try opting decaffeinated versions of your favourite caffeine-rich drinks, like coffee and sodas.
Try to fuel yourself for the day ahead with a healthy carb-packed breakfast such as oats - this may remove the desire for a coffee during the day.
Healthy sugars found in fruits are a great alternative to caffeine-drinks if you need an energy boost.
Sometimes your gut can react to and reflect how you’re feeling. Stress and anxiety can make your gut speed up or slow down and adversely affect your digestion.
To try and counteract this effect, try to eat plenty of high fibre foods, take on enough water and exercise regularly.
Check out our article on 6 Ways to improve your gut health, for more advice on looking after your gut.
Allow time for your gut to adjust to any new foods or different schedules you try.
The importance of drinking plenty of water throughout the day cannot be understated. The effects on our physical health can be detrimental in a variety of ways. To find out just how water affects us physically, check out our article on the 6 Health benefits of water.
Besides keeping our bodily functions in check, staying hydrated is also tied to our mental state. Dehydration is very closely related to headaches, tiredness, irritability and generally feeling worse. The physical effects also tend to have a knock on effect, for instance - dehydration’s effect on our digestive system won’t put a smile on anyone’s face.
An easy rule to live by is drinking between half an ounce to an ounce of water every day for each pound you way.
You can take on other fluids like juice, coffee and tea but they shouldn’t replace your water intake altogether.
Eating the right fats
To keep your brain working well, it requires fatty acids (such as omega-3 and 6). So try to avoid the unreasonable idea that we should steer clear of fats altogether, and find the healthy ones in some of your favourite foods.
Healthy fats are found in: oily fish, poultry, nuts, olive and sunflower oils, seeds, avocados, milk, yoghurt, cheese and eggs.
Fats that are unhealthy tend to be found in fast food and heavily processed foods. These are trans-fats which can be especially tempting when you’re feeling low but these will likely make you feel worse in the long run and negatively affect your physical health too.
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