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How food affects your mood

When we're feeling sad, stressed or tired, our natural response is to reach for sweet treats or simple carbs to feel better. But what does this really do to our mood and energy levels?

Eating processed foods such as cakes, chips and lollies may make us feel good for a short time, but their lack of nutrients means that the body breaks them down quickly. This causes a spike in our blood sugar levels that makes us feel energised for a short burst, then tired and sluggish shortly after.

Can nourishing your body really boost your mood?

Having a diet that provides regular amounts of good quality carbohydrates to keep blood glucose levels stable and avoid spikes is important. Carbohydrates include a wide range of foods which are digested into sugar (glucose). These provide energy for the body, which may be why you want to reach for them when feeling tired.

The best choices are slowly digested carbs that provide long lasting energy for the brain, like wholegrain breads, fruit and low-fat dairy foods. If you don’t have enough carbohydrates to keep your body fuelled with glucose, you can feel tired and irritable.

Eating breakfast is also good way to kickstart your day and will reduce the likelihood of ‘sweet binges’ as a pick me up later.

Feeling good and energised in the long term will come from having a well-balanced diet. Eating healthy, whole foods like fruit, veggies, wholegrains, lean meat, seafood, and dairy means we’re more likely to meet our needs for vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre, which impacts our gut and brain health. And ultimately our mood.

The link between your gut health and your mental wellbeing

As more information about our gut health emerges, we are learning that our gut bacteria may also play a role in our mental health. Having a healthy gut microbiome and including gut friendly foods in our diet, could play a key role in lowering stress and inflammation in the body, and in turn boost our health and productivity overall.

Our gut bacteria respond according to the different food that we eat. Eat junk food, and you’re more likely to be feeding the bad bacteria in your gut. This may lead to poor health and possibly even chronic conditions that are related to depression.

Eating a diet rich in fermentable fibres (prebiotics) such as vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains, as well as fermented foods (probiotics) such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and kefir, will help feed and boost your good gut bacteria. This is more likely to help lower inflammation and the risk of chronic health conditions.

What nutrients should you focus on to boost mood?

When it comes down to it, overall diet quality is the key, rather than pin-pointing individual nutrients. However, there are several nutrients of interest when it comes to brain health and mood.

B vitamins

B vitamins, such as those found in whole grains, vegetables and lean meats, are involved in neuronal function and many processes in our brains. Pineapples are high in manganese and are a good source of vitamin B, C and folate. They have been positively linked to brain health.

Omega-3

This is a healthy fat often linked with good mood and brain health. It’s found in foods like extra virgin olive oil, oily fish and some nuts. Research suggests that omega-3 may help reduce the symptoms of depression, as it may make it easier for serotonin (the happy hormone) to pass through our brain and get to the cells associated with creating happy feelings.

Selenium

Selenium, found in Brazil nuts, meat, fish, seeds and wholemeal bread, can boost our levels of serotonin, and help elevate a low mood.

Tryptophan

Serotonin is made with an essential amino acid from the diet called tryptophan. This can be found in foods like tofu, cottage cheese, eggs, chicken, salmon, red meat, chickpeas, almonds and peanuts.

Resistant starch

Resistant starch is a type of fibre that ‘resists digestion’ and becomes available as food for our good gut bacteria. The bacteria turn it into short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which are the main source of energy for the cells lining our colon. SCFAs help to maintain the integrity of the intestinal wall and give us energy to feel good.

Good food sources of resistant starch include green bananas, cooked and cooled potatoes, rice and pasta, legumes and oats. The cooking and cooling of starches makes the starch crystals become more resistant to digestion, nourishing the good bacteria.

Do you need help making healthy food choices?

MyCoach for Nutrition offers you free, confidential support from an Accredited Practising Dietician. Whether you’re seeking support for sustainable weight loss, managing food intolerances, allergies and medical conditions, we’re here to help. MyCoach can also provide guidance on how to achieve a healthier lifestyle for you and your family.

Contact us today by calling 1300 360 364, or by logging in to BeneHub for tools and resources to be your best you.