Ronan Keating once said, “Life is rollercoaster, just got to ride it.” And he was right. Whether it’s changes in circumstance or the natural ebb and flow of our moods, we all experience highs and lows. But did you know that what you put in your body could be affecting your mood?
Having a healthy and varied diet can impact your mind, as much as it does the rest of your body. While we’re definitely not saying that food is a treatment for low mood or mental illness (always get the advice of a medical professional on these things) it is true that dietary changes can bring about changes in our brain structure.
How Does Food Affect Mood?
It often feels like our mood is something only impacted by external factors – running out of milk, stubbing your toe, receiving a passive aggressive email. But as anyone who gets ‘hangry’ will know our general wellbeing (sleeping enough, drinking plenty of water and eating right) can seriously affect whether we feel on top of the world or down in the dumps.
The science behind why food impacts our mood is still developing but we do know some things for sure. Firstly, our gut and our brain are connected – 90% of serotonin receptors are in the gut (that’s the hormone which regulates our mood) and there is an anatomical and physiological communication between our brain and gut via the vagus nerve. Secondly, processed food contains substances that can disrupt our gut health and lead to disease – including anxiety and depression.
What to Eat to Improve Your Mood
A recent study has shown that eating a healthy, balanced diet may be protective against depression. And what is a healthy, balanced diet? Well, a good place to start is eating plenty of fibre, reducing your sugar intake and packing in lots of colourful fruit and veg. If you’re looking for specific ingredients to help improve your mood, then try these – these 10 foods are packed full of the nutrients that your gut and brain need to keep you smiling.
Walnuts, Brazil nuts, peanuts, almonds and cashews – all delicious and bursting with mood-boosting nutrients. Nuts always come high on healthy snacking lists because they’re packed full of protein, fibre and healthy fats but they’re also high in trypophan an amino acid responsible for producing our friend serotonin. A handful of nuts as a tasty snack when your stomach rumbles is any easy way to get them into your diet but you can also use nuts to top salads or porridge.
2. Oily Fish
If you’re lacking in omega-3 fatty acids you could be more susceptible to depression and low mood. This is because around 30% of our brain is made up of these fatty acids. Get your fill by tucking into salmon, mackerel and sardines regularly.
Start your day right and fill up on porridge, muesli and granola to bring a smile to your face. Oats are packed full of fibre which helps to regulate your blood sugar levels, which can help to reduce mood swings and irritability.
Have you ever seen a sad monkey? No? Well maybe it’s because they dine out on bananas. High in vitamin B6, which helps to synthesise feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, and an excellent source of probiotics which keep your gut happy this cheerful looking fruit is a must-eat.
5. Green Vegetables
Popeye had it right this whole time. Green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, artichokes and avocados are rich in the B vitamin folate. The link isn’t fully understood yet but several studies have found that low folate levels are associated with depression. In general, a diet which includes a higher intake of fruit and vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of depression so listen to your Mum eat your greens.
They might not look it, but lentils are complex (complex carbohydrates that is) and like bananas they help increase the brain’s production of serotonin. Lentils are also high in folate, which we’ve just learnt is linked to keeping depression at bay. Not sure how to get them in your diet? We suggest adding them to soups and stews to thicken them up.
7. Fermented Food
Okay we know this doesn’t sound very tasty but hear us out. Fermented foods include things like kimchi, kombucha, yoghurt and kefir are full of probiotics. These microorganisms support the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut and as we’ve learnt a healthy gut = a happy mind.
8. Dark Chocolate
We know you were wondering when this much-loved comfort food was going to make an appearance. If you want to ditch the crash that often follows indulging in the sweet stuff then choose dark chocolate which is lower in sugar but higher in flavonoids (which increase blood flow to the brain).
How do you like your eggs in the morning? We like ours with a smile. Eggs are high in protein, vitamins D and B12 and choline – a nutrient that helps your brain and nervous system to regulate mood, as well as memory and muscle control. Have them fried, scrambled, poached, hard-boiled or in an omelette.
10. Sweet Potato
Featuring plenty of vitamin B6 vitamin C and fibre, sweet potatoes help the production of serotonin – we all know what that is by now. You can do lots with sweet potatoes – sweet or savoury but you can’t beat a plate of sweet potato wedges or fries.