Food and Mood

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Dog on couch

What’s the relationship here? Does your mood impact your food choices? Or do your food choices impact your mood?

Truth is, the relationship between mood and food goes both ways. Most of us have turned to food for comfort at some point – chocolate, ice cream, tea or coffee with a biscuit or a piece of cake – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Food is meant to nourish us, to make us feel good and happy. Food also provides us with nutrients for good health – and that’s where too much of the not-so-nutrient dense stuff (I’m looking at you fast-food!) can have a negative impact on our mood.

Think about how you felt the last time you ate too much of something. Too much of anything. Maybe the serve of chips that came with your burger was just a bit too big? Maybe you should have stopped at half the chocolate bar, saving the rest for another day? Maybe that extra scoop of ice cream or extra glass of wine was just too much to ask your body to deal with in one go? If you felt a bit “off” after overindulging (and let’s face it, we all overindulge at times), it’s just your body’s way of telling you to back off a little (or maybe a lot depending on how often you are overindulging).

Now think about the last time you had a meal or snack which was packed full of nutrients. Grilled salmon with a fresh green salad, stir-fry with lots of in-season veggies, a roast dinner with a plateful of roast veggies, or even just a handful of mixed nuts. How did you feel afterwards? Why is it that this stuff (fresh fruit and veggies, wholegrains, nuts) leave us feeling so much better? Simply put, they are packed full of vitamins and minerals, which contribute to our health, and our mood.

Here are just some of the nutrients that play a role in making us feel good:

  • Magnesium helps us relax and can improve our sleep. Magnesium is found in dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, brown rice, almonds and dark chocolate.
  • Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin (a feel-good hormone) and melatonin (a sleepy hormone), so helps us feel happy and sleepy. Foods high in tryptophan include quinoa, lentils, turkey, chicken, eggs and peanuts.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids help our neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers found throughout our bodies) function properly; low levels of these messengers have been associated with depression. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish (especially salmon, herring and sardines), oysters, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, avocado and extra virgin olive oil.
  • Fibre helps our gut to work effectively. It provides bulk for our stools and feeds our gut bacteria (which is super-important for our overall health as well as our gut health). Gut complaints (bloating, cramps, constipation or diarrhoea) have a significant impact on how you feel. Fibre helps normalise your bowel movements to reduce gut complaints. Fibre is found in fruits, veggies, seeds, legumes, psyllium, nuts and wholegrains. There’s a whole lot of research on what’s known as the ‘gut-brain axis’ – how our brain and gut communicate with each other – that I’ll save for another blog post. But meanwhile, think about this – when you have butterflies in your stomach because you’re nervous about something, that’s an example of the brain communicating with your gut. And it goes both ways.

If you are struggling with your mood, make an appointment with me to discuss how some tweaks to your diet might help you feel better. You’d be surprised how small changes can make a big impact.

Develop a positive relationship with food