Balance Your Mood With Healthy Nutrition
Have you ever wondered how the foods you eat can affect your brain and mood? There is no doubt that nutrition supports your physical wellbeing. However, a healthy diet may help your mental health as well.
Mood is a complex phenomenon. The circumstances in our social, financial, relationship and work environments interplay with biological factors, thought processes and physical health to impact upon our emotional state. Therefore, whilst good nutrition is not a ‘cure-all’ for creating a happy mood, it is a part of the equation.
This impact of diet quality upon mood has been shown in many studies. Large-scale research has shown that people who have high intakes of fruit, vegetables, fish and wholegrain foods tend to have lower levels of anxiety and depression. As you can probably guess, higher intakes of Western ‘junk’ foods have been associated with higher rates of mental illness.
In fact, the dietary patterns of pregnant women may even affect the future moods of their developing infants. In a study of over 23,000 women, a higher intake of Western unhealthy foods during pregnancy was associated with poorer emotional coping behaviours of their children later in life. Therefore, it seems that foetal nutrition could be important for future mental health!
So What Foods Have Been Found to Affect Mood?
- Folate. Folate is an important part of the process in your brain for making serotonin and S-adenosyl-methionine, which are ‘feel-good’ chemicals that help fight off depression. Folate is also really important for keeping the tiny blood vessels inside your brain robust and healthy. This is absolutely vital to protecting the functioning of your brain, especially as you enter your later years.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Some studies have found a link between eating omega-3 fatty acids and lower rates of depression and there are several theories to explain this. Firstly, omega-3 fatty acids are a ‘building block’ in the membranes of brain cells and neuronal synapses. This is obviously important to how your brain functions! Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects throughout the body. Inflammatory markers have been implicated in the development of depressive illnesses and are higher in people following a typical Western diet.
- Antioxidants. Antioxidants refer to a group of food compounds which fight free radicals in your body. Free radicals form both naturally and through external stressors placed upon the body, then damage cells through a process called ‘oxidation’. As the very apt name ‘anti-oxidants’ suggests, foods high in these compounds help to fight oxidation from free-radicals.
Over time, oxidative stress from free radicals can contribute towards the decline of our cognitive abilities. Therefore, eating abundant antioxidants may help to protect our mental functioning.
- Low Glycaemic Index (GI) Carbohydrates. Eating a low GI breakfast has been found to enhance concentration, mental performance, alertness, happiness and ability to cope with stress. Some research also suggests that some carbohydrate foods, such as bananas, oatmeal and wholegrain cereals may help the production of serotonin.
- Caffeine. In moderation, caffeine can improve mental focus and feelings of energy. In excess however, caffeine can also cause anxiety and irritability. Caffeine tolerance can vary between individuals, however as a general guideline most adults should not exceed three cups per day.
The research into food and mood is really still in its infancy. There is still a lot more to discover about how nutrition impacts our complex brain chemistry! However, current research suggests that eating low GI foods which are high in folate, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids support a good mood.