How food affects your mood

Alison Tehan Nutrition / anxiety  / How food affects your mood

How food affects your mood

Many of us do not think about how food can impact the way we feel, but we all know the feeling of using food as a short term pick-me-up. When we are feeling a little tired, stressed or bored, we often reach for a sugary snack to help us feel good. But, this can actually make things worse in the long term.

Australian researchers have recently confirmed that unhealthy diet and mental ill health are linked. One study showed that a modified Mediterranean diet significantly helped patients with severe depression within 12 weeks. An unhealthy diet, whether it’s too much junk food, or not enough ‘nutrient-dense’ foods, or both, is a risk factor for depression and anxiety. It also appears to be a risk factor for more general emotional dysregulation in children.

Better quality diets reduce your risk of depression, while diets which high in processed foods – are associated with increased depression and often anxiety.

An ideal diet should be filled with plant foods such as vegetables, salads, fruits, legumes (eg. chickpeas, lentils, tofu), wholegrains and raw nuts; fish and lean red meats; and healthy fats such as olive oil.  At the same time, processed foods should be avoided.

There are two consequences of a poor diet that impact our immune system, gut bacteria, and parts of our brain function. If we do not consume enough nutrient-dense foods this can lead to nutrient deficiencies, and this has a detrimental impact on our immune system, brain health as well as affecting gene expression and our gut microbiota. Importantly, our gut microbiota depend on an adequate intake of dietary fibre.

Here are some easy tips to help improve your mood.

Reduce sugar and processed foods

Low and falling blood sugar levels can cause a rise in your body’s stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.  Processed food also contains artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers that can interfere with your good gut bacteria allowing harmful pathogens to dominate. Processed food has a negative impact on the brain proteins that are important in protecting it against oxidative stress and promoting the growth of new brain cells.

Increase healthy fats

Healthy fats reduce inflammation throughout the body and are essential for brain function. Foods high in good fats include extra virgin olive oil, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies), avocado, seeds, walnuts, flaxseed and leafy vegetables.

Increase vegetable intake

Vegetables contain nutrients such as B vitamins, fibre and phytochemicals our bodies need. Antioxidants and B vitamins in vegetables affect neurotransmitters that impact mood. Certain deficiencies in B vitamins have been linked to depression, as serotonin production can actually be hindered by low B vitamin levels.

Feed your gut bugs

Having a healthy population of gut bacteria can significantly influence your mood via the gut-brain axis.

The prebiotic fibre contained in vegetables help to feed your gut bugs to thrive, so the best way to maintain a healthy population is to increase your intake of vegetables, such leeks, onions, garlic, artichokes and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.

Fermented foods help populate and balance your good bacteria such as sauerkraut and miso.

Of course, there can be many other factors to consider with mental health problems and it is always important to seek advice from a qualified health professional but we should not underestimate the power of changing our food to improve our mood.

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