Feeling a little down lately? Tuning into healthy, nutritious foods could be a simple way to improve your mood, and boost your health and wellbeing. According to the experts, a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet including lots of delicious whole grains, vegetables, and lean protein can provide all the right vitamins, and minerals your mind and body needs to thrive. Ready to dig in?
Is mood really affected by food according to science?
Yes, says holistic nutritionist, cookbook author, and recipe developer, Jenna Radomski."Our
food choices and our mood are intricately linked thanks to the
interplay of blood sugar balance, hormone and neurotransmitter levels,
and the nutrients we eat.”
The gut-brain axis
Nutritionist Sophie Trotman explains
the link between the food we eat and how we feel. “Our brain and gut
are connected through the gut-brain axis. This means that our mental
health affects our gut health, and our gut health affects our mental
It all comes down to how the food we eat affects our
hormones because our hormones tend to dictate our mood. “Hormones are
manufactured in our gut. In fact, 90% of the body’s supply of serotonin
is synthesized in our gut. Therefore, if our gut isn’t functioning
optimally, this impacts our levels of serotonin, otherwise known as the
happiness hormone. Imbalances in blood sugar can lead to dips, leaving
us feeling irritable and low. Nutrient intake and deficiencies can cause
systemic imbalances which impact our mood,” explains Trotman.
(‘the happiness hormone’) is a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep
and appetite, inhibits pain, and mediates mood. In other words, a
happier gut means a happier and healthier you. This is great news,
especially if you struggle with anxiety, depression, low mood, or mood
swings. It means you can have more control over how you feel by deciding
what’s on your plate.
You’ll be glad to know it’s not all rice crackers and kale! The body
needs variety because different foods deliver
different nutritional benefits all around our body.“It
is important to not place unnecessary importance on one specific food.
Variety is key for optimal gut health and to hit our micronutrient
targets. A whole-food, anti-inflammatory diet is the way to go for brain
health,” says Trotman.
Most of us probably aren’t drinking enough water. Trotman explains
why staying hydrated is so important. “When you consider that all
cellular reactions happen in water, not drinking the recommended 2
liters of water a day can have a huge impact on our mood. Water is also
how we flush out cortisol, the stress hormone. If you’re not drinking
enough, you may get a build-up of cortisol, leading to greater feelings
of stress and overwhelm.”
Drinking enough water each day can help
us to stay energized and support our insides to function properly. And
when our insides are functioning optimally, it’s amazing the difference
we will see in our hair, nails, and skin too! Not drinking enough water
can lead to headaches, poor concentration, mood changes, and fatigue
from dehydration. Recognize any of those? It’s time to get sipping!
2. Omega 3, 6 & 9
“Oily fish is a big one. We should be consuming 2-3 portions of oily
fish a week. If you are vegan, you may want to include a vegan omega 3
algae-derived supplement. You can get omega 3 fatty acids from
flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds. However, the form of omega-3 that
these foods contain is not as readily absorbed by the body as oily
fish,” says Trotman.
Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and
sardines are great sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Our body doesn't
naturally produce these fatty acids, so we have to make sure we’re
getting through our diet. Salmon contains two types of fatty acids that
have been linked to lowering depression. Omega-3s play a key role in
cell signaling and brain development. It can also be found in walnuts,
flaxseeds, and some eggs (just look for the label). Studies suggest that
2 portions of oily fish per week can help to improve brain memory,
performance, and cognitive function.
3. Fermented foods
Since the gut and brain are intrinsically linked, how you care for
your gut directly affects your mood. Fermented foods like kimchi,
yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut increase live bacteria in your
gut, and therefore serotonin levels (although not all fermented foods
are good sources of probiotics, e.g. wine, beer, and bread.)
you’ve heard the phrase “good bacteria” before right? It’s usually on
yogurt adverts. Good bacteria in your gut play an essential role. They
protect the lining of your intestines and ensure that there is a strong
barrier against toxins (or “bad bacteria”) that can cause harm. They
fight inflammation, improve how well you absorb nutrients from your
food, and activate the neural pathways that travel directly between the
gut and the brain. If you’re not eating enough fermented food, then it
would be worth taking a probiotic to support your gut health!
4. Berries, Nuts & Seeds
“Blueberries are potent antioxidants
which are excellent for brain health,” says Trotman. “[Although]
remember to wash them before consuming, as these are some of the worst
offenders for pesticide use.” Antioxidant-rich foods like berries, nuts,
and seeds are great for warding off free radicals and protecting
against oxidative stress that can lead to depression and other chronic
diseases as well as the physical signs of aging like fine lines,
dullness, sagging, and wrinkles. They protect cells from damage.
5. Dark Chocolate
You read that right – chocolate has
mood-boosting benefits (just don’t eat the whole sharing bar to yourself
in one night.). “Dark chocolate is high in magnesium, which is often
lacking in western diets. Magnesium has wonderful neurological
properties. In addition, dark chocolate is high in antioxidants which
fight off free radicals in the brain,” shares Trotman. It releases
feel-good compounds including caffeine that have been linked to improved
mood. Health-promoting flavonoids have been shown to increase blood
flow to the brain, reduce inflammation and boost brain health.
milk chocolate contains added ingredients like fat and sugar, dark
chocolate is your best bet – it’s high in flavonoids and low in added
sugar. One or two squares of 80%+ cacao-level chocolate per serving
should be enough though – it’s still high in calories. Plus, chocolate
has a high hedonic rate meaning its pleasurable taste, texture and smell
promote a good mood – although you didn't need us to tell you that, did
If you haven’t got a sweet tooth, daily magnesium and caffeine supplements can help you to feel more energized too.
6. B vitamin-rich foods
“B6 vitamins are essential for the
production of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA,” says Trotman. While
serotonin makes you happy, dopamine encourages feelings of pleasure,
plus learning and memory, and GABA encourages feelings of calm.
vitamins help us to get or make energy from the food we’re eating.
Sometimes a lack of B vitamins in our diet can cause us to feel tired,
lethargic, fatigued, or even depressed. Foods such as whole grains,
eggs, fish, milk, leafy greens, beans, and peas are all excellent
sources of B vitamins.
Radomski shares how B vitamins can be
especially useful during the menstruation cycle too. “I work with people
struggling with common PMS symptoms, like cravings and mood swings,
that typically show up during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.”
always recommend clients incorporate foods rich in vitamin B6 during
this time and many report feeling less moody and more energized. Vitamin
B6, also called pyridoxine, is a necessary cofactor in the synthesis of
our feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, and
deficiencies are linked with depression, irritability, and sleep
disturbances. Foods rich in vitamin B6 include bananas, beef, chicken,
salmon, garlic, nuts, spinach, and sweet potatoes,” advises Radomski.
7. Amino acids, fiber & iron-rich foods
Serotonin can’t be made without the amino acid, tryptophan, which is
found in bananas, eggs, walnuts, milk, chicken, turkey, fish, and
To keep us feeling mentally energized, we need a
sufficient amount of glucose. Glucose comes from carbohydrates that
include fruit, vegetables, potatoes, bread, cereals, sugars (but always
choose unrefined and high quality where possible), and lactose in milk.
it comes to influencing those feel-good vibes through our gut health,
we know that eating a variety of vegetables is important, along with
whole wheat, whole grains, and fiber. Fiber helps your slow digestion of
carbohydrates allowing for a gradual release of sugar into the
bloodstream to keep your energy levels stable. People who eat fiber for
breakfast report better mood and energy levels overall. Balancing blood
sugar levels is important for stabilizing mood swings and irritability.
you can get your fiber fix from lots of whole grains, oats are
particularly nutritious because they’re high in iron too. Iron supports
healthy energy levels.
What should we eat if we need an instant boost in energy?
“We should avoid sugar-rich foods as these will spike your blood sugar
which will then drop, leaving you tired, irritable and craving more
sweet things. The gold standard is a balanced snack containing protein,
good fats, and fiber. However, sometimes a spoonful of almond butter
will do nicely!” says Trotman.
Food is fuel
While many of us believe that our anger, anxiety, irritability, lack
of focus, or depression is down to our external environment or
situation, it turns out we could be looking in the wrong direction.
bodies are like cars. Without the right fuel, we can become slow, some
of our parts stop working and as a last resort, we break down. Fuel your
body with a wide variety of delicious nutrient-rich foods and
supplements that deliver all the goodness that we need, notice an uplift
in mood, a boost in energy, and look forward to feeling your best!