Food and Mood … What is the Relationship?
Is there a relationship between what you eat and how you feel
Can we improve our diet to feel happier, more relaxed, more able to enjoy life, calmer, more at ease with yourself and others?
When considering how to improve your nutrition to create positive feelings, clearer thinking, more energy and calmer moods – it helps to understand some of the science behind the theory, and then we need to find out which small changes to our diet will have the best effects and create new sustainable habits for long term improvement.
It is no wonder that we get confused, we have been bombarded with so many theories over the years about our food and whether or not it is bad for us. What we do know is what seems to be ok one year, seems to be not so good the next year. Although if we look at how food production has changed over the years we will soon realise that we need to know more about these changes.
We know that wheat production has changed so much in the last 50 years that a loaf of bread is completely different than it used to be. We know that it has a lot more gluten per slice of bread than it ever did have and is the reason so many people now have gluten intolerance’s. It is not that we have changed, it is that food production has changed.
Having said that, we do, of course, change significantly as we age and our lifestyle changes. This means what our system can tolerate now may not be the case in 10 years time. There are so many factors to consider when thinking about the foods we eat.
If your blood sugar drops you might feel tired, irritable and depressed. You need to eat regularly to keep your sugar level steady, and choose foods that release energy slowly. You need to choose slow release energy foods to last you for a few hours.
Slow-release energy foods include: protein foods, good fats, nuts and seeds, oats and whole grains.
- Eating breakfast gets the day off to a good start.
- Avoid foods which make your blood sugar rise and fall
rapidly, such as sugary snacks, sugary drinks, and alcohol. (stimulants)
The food components protein, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins and minerals need to be carefully selected if you want to change your energy levels and mood.
Protein contains amino acids, which make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings. It also helps control your blood sugar levels.
Protein is in: lean meat, fish, eggs, cheese, legumes (peas, beans and lentils), soya products, nuts and seeds.
- If you eat meat, choose the best quality meat you can afford. Higher welfare meat is much better for you than meat from factory-farmed animals because it has more nutrients and less fat.
- Whatever your diet, why not do some research into other foods that contain protein, and find something new to try?
Your brain needs fatty oils (such as omega-3 and -6) to keep it working well. So rather than avoiding all fats, it’s important to eat the right ones.
Good fats are in: oily fish, poultry, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), olive and sunflower oils, seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin), avocados, milk, yoghurt, cheese and eggs.
- Try to avoid anything which lists ‘trans fats’ or ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ in the list of ingredients (such as some shop-bought cakes and biscuits). They can be tempting when you’re feeling low, but this kind of fat is bad for your mood and your physical health in the long run.
Vegetables and fruit contain a lot of the minerals, vitamins and fibre we need to keep us physically and mentally healthy.
Eating a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables every day means you’ll get a good range of nutrients and carbohydrates. Good carbohydrates are the ones which contain vitamins and minerals. So you can have a really healthy diet with lots of carbohydrates by eating a good range of vegetables each day. Fruits have sugar which is easily broken down by your body so is the best sort of sweetness you can add to your meals or snacks.
- Tomatoes, mushrooms and bananas all contain high levels of potassium which is essential for your whole nervous system, including your brain.
- Try eating some vegetables raw each day, as cooking can destroy some vitamins.
Essential vitamins and minerals which directly relates to your ability to concentrate and focus
Vitamins and minerals
When you don’t eat enough nutrient-rich food, your body will lack vital vitamins and minerals, often affecting your energy, mood and brain function.
This results in low levels of oxygen carrying haemoglobin in the blood, resulting in the condition anaemia. Feeling weak, tired and lethargic all the time.
The risk of anaemia is reduced with adequate intakes of iron, particularly from red meat, poultry and fish.
It may also be helped by avoiding drinking tea with meals.
Tiredness and feeling depressed or irritable.
Fortified foods including wholegrain cereals, animal protein foods such as meat/fish, eggs and dairy.
Increased chance of feeling depressed, particularly important in older people.
Folate is found in liver, green vegetables, oranges and other citrus fruits, beans and fortified foods such as yeast extract (marmite) and fortified breakfast cereals.
May increase the incidence of feeling depressed and other negative mood states.
Brazil nuts, meat, fish, seeds and wholemeal bread.
Can you eat yourself happier?
Making small, steady changes in your eating habits is important for your general health and will also help to improve your mood.
- Eat regular meals – especially breakfast
- Stabilise your blood sugar levels to stabilise your mood. This also helps prevent food cravings.
- Ensure your energy is utilised effectively by choosing healthy snacks in between meals.
- Prepare your meals and snacks in advance. If you are ‘caught short’ you may have trouble finding food which is healthy.
- Plan your meal recipes and your shopping and your meal preparation times.
- When you have a treat – enjoy it. If you are making significant changes in your diet – you are working hard, there is no point in having a treat unless you wholeheartedly enjoy it!
Choose positive mood foods
• Tryptophan is an amino acid essential for the production of serotonin, which is the brain chemical which helps regulate mood. It is found in poultry, oil-rich fish, beans, baked potatoes, oats, nuts and seeds.
• Carbohydrates with vitamins and minerals are needed to help the uptake of serotonin in the brain. So eat healthy (whole food) carbohydrates together with the protein foods.
• Ideas for snacks include a handful of nuts and raisins, peanut butter on wholemeal bread, or fruit with seeds or yoghurt.
• Ensuring adequate and balanced consumption of omega-3 & -6 oil is beneficial for general health as well as mood. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in many vegetable oils, including soybean, safflower, corn, sunflower, flax and walnut oils. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in flaxseeds, hemp, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and oily cold-water fish.
Be aware of medication side effects
Check with your doctor about how any medication might affect your appetite or food choices. Some anti-depressants react with certain foods, some increase appetite and some reduce it. Be extra vigilant about all the above strategies when on medication.
- Change your diet slowly
- Don’t banish carbs just choose smart carbs (with vitamins and minerals)
- Eat plenty of Omega 3 and 6
- Eat a great breakfast
- Keep exercising and lose weight slowly
- Move to a Mediterranean diet which is high in Folate
- Get plenty of Vitamin D
More about changing your diet to optimise your health
Need more motivation? Click here
A great book to read – The Clever Guts Diet by Michael Mosley.
It is packed with great recipes, menu plans, checklists and tips to help you transform your gut and change the way you eat to optimise your health.