When you think of the options you have for improving your mood, you may not consider the contents of your shopping basket. Whether it’s the ups and downs of everyday life or more enduring mood challenges, the foods you eat can have a big influence on your emotions and how you experience them.
The link between food and mood is complex but research points to several important relationships. Your diet affects neurotransmitter production, inflammation, stress hormones, blood sugar fluctuations and gut health and these things directly impact your mental wellbeing.
Holistic nutritionist and chef Kate Spina shares her top 3 tips with Mindology :
The simplest thing you can do for your mood is to eat enough at regular times throughout the day. This gives your brain enough energy to function at it's best and helps you feel calmer. When we skip meals, we can feel distracted and irritable so plan for regular meals or snacks before you get “hangry”.
The butterflies you get in your stomach are not only a sign of trepidation but also a reminder of how your gut and brain influence each other. Your gut produces certain neurotransmitters, these communicate with your brain via the vagal nerve and affects inflammation. Inflammation is considered a key factor in depression so eating a gut-loving, anti-inflammatory diet including oily fish, legumes, brightly-coloured vegetables, nuts, seeds and olive oil can lift your mood. Be aware that vegetable oils, processed meats, trans-fats and added sugars eaten in excess can contribute to inflammation and depression.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers which tell your brain how calm or excited to be. Getting enough of the nutrients needed to produce these neurotransmitters can help you feel more relaxed, happy and focused. In particular, make sure you’re getting some protein at lunch and dinner and make sure to include some plant-based proteins like legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds.
When you feel under threat, your body releases the stress hormone, cortisol. This is a very helpful hormone if you need to get out of danger. However, if your perceived threat is daily stress, your cortisol levels may go up and stay elevated for a lot longer than they should. This can make you feel anxious, jittery and depleted. Too much caffeine can aggravate this state so keep your coffee intake to one a day.
Studies have shown that you are more resilient to stress when you get enough vitamin C and magnesium. My favourite stress-busting snack (packed with these 2 nutrients!) is a trail mix with freeze-dried strawberries, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts and dark chocolate-coated almonds.
So the next time you go grocery shopping, consider that the right foods can be an important part of your mental health toolbox and a delicious way to care for yourself.
Kate Spina is a holistic nutritionist, award-winning chef, eating disorder survivor focussed on intuitive eating, mental health nutrition and gut health. Learn more about Kate’s recipes and nutrition hacks.
Oliveira IJL de, de Souza VV, Motta V, Da-Silva SL. Effects of Oral Vitamin C Supplementation on Anxiety in Students: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Pakistan J Biol Sci. 2015;18(1):11-18. doi:10.3923/pjbs.2015.11.18