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The Relationship Between Food and Mood

Did you know that food has a great influence on our emotions, energy levels, and overall well-being? If you want to know how you can get that extra boost of serotonin, read through this article to discover how you can take control of your emotional health through proper diet.

Relationship between food and mood

Poor nutrition and unhealthy eating habits have been implicated in the development of mood disorders. Blame has been consistently placed on blood sugar fluctuations and nutritional imbalances. In the absence of a steady and healthy source of fuel from the foods you eat, you can expect both your body and mind not to function optimally.

Let’s take a look at how unhealthy eating habits impact upon your mood:

  • Skipping meals. Missing breakfast results in low blood sugar, leaving you feeling tired and weak.
  • Cutting out whole food groups. If you cut out certain food groups like carbohydrates from your daily diet, you are missing out on essential nutrients that your body needs. Reduced levels of iron, zinc, B vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium and Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with worsening mood swings and decreased energy.
  • Eating too many refined carbohydrates as “comfort food”. High intake of unhealthy, processed carbs, such as white bread and pastries, causes your blood sugar to spike and fall rapidly, resulting in low energy.

The Latest Research

In recent years, researchers have been taking a closer look at the relationship between food and mood. Although they have yet to fully understand the hows and whys of this relationship, they have discovered links between and eating patterns with mood.

Let us summarize some of these research findings:

  • High-carbohydrate and sugar diets linked to depression and anxiety symptoms

Termed as high glycaemic index and load, carb- and sugar-rich diets are associated with an increasing incidence of depression symptoms and anxiety. This may be due to the repeated spike-and-crash reaction of blood sugar levels after eating a meal rich in refined carbs.

  • Dietary inflammation associated with depression

Characterized by frequent consumption of foods associated with inflammation (such as trans fats and refined carbohydrates) – and lower intake of nutritious foods with anti-inflammatory properties are linked to the development of depression.

  • Specific nutritional components and diets may fight depression

Substances such as polyphenols and polyunsaturated fats and general dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, may have anti-inflammatory effects. These increase the possibility that certain foods can relieve or prevent depression associated with a high inflammatory status.

  • Dietary patterns influence mental health

Certain dietary patterns influence the state of an individual’s mental health. For example, major depressive disorder is associated with changes in the gut microbiome.

Studies on rodents showed that they displayed emotion-like behavioral shifts due to changes in the gut microbiome and that they developed depression-like symptoms after fecal gut microbiota from humans were transferred to rodents.

These findings suggest that neuroactive microbial metabolites played a role in the development of depression symptoms.

  • Diets like the Mediterranean diet promotes overall gut health

Consumption of a diet like the Mediterranean diet–high in fiber, polyphenols, and unsaturated fatty acids–promotes gut microbial taxa, which can metabolize these food sources into anti-inflammatory metabolites, such short chain fatty acids, while lowering the production of secondary bile acids and p-cresol.

  • Probiotics suggested to curb depression

Ingestion of probiotics which targets the gut microbiome, can alter the brain’s response to a task requiring emotional attention, and may also reduce depression symptoms.

Foods That Boost Positive Mental Health

Now that you know about the relationship between food and mood, let us take a look at foods that can boost positive mental health.

Generally speaking, there are 12 vital nutrients which prevent and treat moodiness and depression:

  • Folate
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Potassium
  • Selenium
  • Thiamine
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc

These nutrients can be obtained by switching to a healthier Mediterranean diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, legumes, Omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish, and olive oil.

Let us now go to specific nutrients. Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine is needed by the body to produce “feel good” hormones, serotonin and dopamine. Rich sources of B6 include carrots, avocados, eggs, salmon and spinach.

Tryptophan is also needed for serotonin production. Turkey is rich in tryptophan, but other great sources are spinach, salmon, nuts and seeds.

Vitamin B9 or folate can help ease symptoms of depression. You can get folate from dark green leafy vegetables, beans, eggs, fresh fruit and fruit juices, liver, peanuts, seafood, and sunflower seeds.

Last but not least, you have cacao. Rich in flavonoids, cacao helps to improve mood and ease depression.

Conclusion

While the above research points to a clear relationship between food and mood, more studies need to be done in order to fully understand the complex pathways through which nutrition and diet can influence the brain. Such knowledge could lead to further studies on targeted or personalized interventions to treat mood, depression, anxiety and other symptoms through approaches in nutrition.

References

  1. Mental Healthy First Aid. What is the Relationship Between Food and Mood? [Last accessed March 8, 2024]
  2. NCBI. Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? [Last accessed March 8, 2024]
  3. American Dining Creations. The Correlation Between Food and Your Mood. [Last accessed March 8, 2024)
  4. Harvard. Food and mood: Is there a connection? [Last accessed March 8, 2024]

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