We know that the link between physical health and what you eat is well understood, but did you know that what you eat has a huge impact on your mood and how you feel? We are living in unprecedented times and however calm we might think we are our brains will sense a threat – this is not our ‘normal’ – and will activate our stress hormone system which puts us in fight, flight or freeze mode. If we’ve been under stress for a long time, this may be adding to anxiety, stress, depression and other mood disorders.
The connection between mood and food was common knowledge in times gone by. Way back when (think medieval times), people would eat quince, dates and elderflowers if they were feeling a little blue and use lettuce and chicory as nature’s tranquilisers. Modern science has extensively studied the impact on food on mood, and we now understand why food has such a positive (or negative) effect and also which foods we should be eating more (or less) of to support mental health.
The very edited highlight of the research into what you should eat to improve your mood and balance your energy is to follow a Mediterranean-style diet featuring plenty of whole, natural foods. That also means learning to balance your blood sugar levels. Loss of blood sugar balance has a clear link to stress, anxiety and depression. 50% of low mood is down to blood sugar imbalances.
In the same way that eating well can positively influence mood, making poor food choices can have the opposite effect. Research by a team at Binghamton, New York, showed that young adults under 30 who ate fast food more than three times a week scored higher when it came to levels of mental distress. The same researchers found that those who ate meat fewer than three times a week had more mental health problems (potentially as the amino acid tryptophan found in meat is the pre-cursor to the feel-good chemical serotonin).
WHAT TO INCLUDE:
- 3 meals a day with a mid morning snack and a mid afternoon snack
- Sufficient protein, for an optimum supply of essential amino acids. Have some form of protein with every meal and snack
- Whole, unadulterated food, high in soluble fibre (e.g. beans, lentils, oats)
- High mood-boosting Vitamin B foods like nuts, seeds, beans and green leafy vegetables (which also include essential zinc and magnesium)
- Foods containing high amounts of essential omega-3 fats as well as vitamin D (see below)
Include at least one of the following foods in your diet every day:
- Fish (especially oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, kippers, sardines, tuna)
- Free-range eggs or free-range chicken, or turkey
- Nuts, seeds and beans, especially flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and all beans
- All berries, cherries, plums, apples and pears, green vegetables: broccoli, asparagus, peas, artichoke, kale, cabbage, watercress, rocket
WHAT TO LIMIT
- Avoid sugar in its many disguises and limit foods that contain carbohydrates that break down into sugar fast – bread, rice, pasta, pastries, cakes and cookies
- Avoid foods high in saturated, hydrogenated, processed fats or damaged fats, such as sausages, fried foods and junk food
- Reduce wheat and milk, common contributors to food intolerances and altered moods
- Limit or avoid caffeinated drinks (1 coffee or 2 weak teas a day)
- Limit or avoid alcohol (no more than 3 small glasses of wine, half-pints of beer or measures of spirit a week – and not all on the same night)
Essential fats – vital for your mood and brain function
Few of us get enough omega-3 fats in our diet, and these are key to our mood and brain function. The dry weight of our brain is literally 60% fat – so not surprising that we depend on a daily intake of essential fats.
EPA, DPA and DHA – certain long-chain omega-3 fats – build and rebuild your brain and are part of the equation for happiness. The higher your blood levels of omega-3 fats, the higher your levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin are likely to be. There have been ten good quality double-blind controlled trials to date giving fish oils rich in omega-3s to depressed people. Five showed significant improvement, greater than that reported for anti-depressant drugs. Most studies on anti-depressant drugs report something like a 15% reduction in depression ratings. Three studies on omega-3s reported an average reduction of 50% – and without side-effects.
Sources of omega-3 fats: oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, cod, tuna, halibut), walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds. If you are vegetarian or vegan, consider taking an omega-3 supplement (e.g. DHA from seaweed). Most plant sources of omega-3 do not contain the long-chain fatty acids mentioned above. Although the body can make those from short-chain omega-3s – like the ones found in nuts and seeds – but conversion is poor and it is difficult to get enough omega-3 that way, especially if you are not in good health or pregnant, when you need some extra. These are some small steps you can take to support your mood through diet changes. But, if you have tried to make changes on your own in the past, you’ll understand that having the knowledge is only a very small piece of the puzzle. My Mood & Energy programme has been created to help raise your mood, boost your energy and help you get motivated and back to living life to the full, reduce anxiety, and improve your overall wellbeing. To find out more about this programme, contact me or book in for a complimentary call.