How Food Affects Your Mood
Most people are familiar with the old saying - You are what you eat. Well, it's truer than you think. Research shows that food has a significant affect on how we feel emotionally and should definitely be looked into as a cause when a person is experiencing mood issues.
So what should you eat more of, and avoid, for the sake of your mood?
Ditch The Junk Food
Research suggests that while healthy diets can reduce the risk or severity of depression, unhealthy diets may increase the risk.
Of course, we all indulge from time to time but unhealthy diets are those that contain lots of foods that are high in calories and low on nutrition. These are the foods we should limt or avoid:
- processed and takeaway foods
- processed meats
- fried food
- refined grains, such as those in white bread, pasta, cakes and pastries
- sugary drinks and snacks.
Overall, as a nation, we are consuming too much junk food and not enough fibre-rich fresh food and whole grains. This leaves us overfed, undernourished and mentally worse off.
Focus on Healthy Food
Having a healthy diet means consuming a wide variety of nutritious foods every day, including:
- fruit (two serves per day)
- vegetables (five serves)
- oily fish
- dairy products
- small quantities of meat
- small quantities of olive oil
This way of eating is common in Mediterranean countries, where people have been identified as having lower rates of cognitive decline, depression and dementia. In Japan, a diet low in processed foods and high in fresh fruit, vegetables, green tea and soy products is recognised for its protective role in mental health.
How does healthy food help?
A healthy diet is naturally high in five food types that boost our mental health in different ways:
Complex carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables and wholegrains help fuel our brain cells. Complex carbohydrates release glucose slowly into our system, unlike simple carbohydrates (found in sugary snacks and drinks), which create energy highs and lows throughout the day. These peaks and troughs decrease feelings of happiness and negatively affect our psychological well-being.
Antioxidants in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables scavenge free radicals, eliminate oxidative stress and decrease inflammation in the brain. This in turn increases the feelgood chemicals in the brain that elevate our mood.
Omega 3 found in oily fish and B vitamins found in some vegetables increase the production of the brain's happiness chemicals and have been known to protect against both dementia and depression.
Pro and prebiotics found in yoghurt, cheese and fermented products boost the millions of bacteria living in our gut.
These bacteria produce chemical messengers from the gut to the brain that influence our emotions and reactions to stressful situations.
Research suggests probiotics and prebiotics could work on the same neurological pathways that antidepressants do, thereby decreasing depressed and anxious states and elevating happy emotions.