Food & Mood: The Science Behind How Nutrition Influences Your Mental Health
In this blog, our nutritionist Alicia talks about the connection between what we eat & how we feel goes beyond merely satisfying our tastebuds. It’s widely recognised that food plays a vital role in our overall well-being, including our mental health. In this blog, we’ll explore the fascinating relationship between food & mood and discuss how our nutritional choices can impact & improve our emotional well-being.
Did you know that our gut and brain are in constant communication?
This remarkable interplay is known as the gut-brain axis. The food we consume has a direct influence on the composition of our gut microbiota, which plays a vital role in neurotransmitter production and mood regulation. A diet rich in fruit, vegetables & fermented foods like tempeh & sauerkraut, helps to support a diverse microbiome that is rich in beneficial bacteria. A thriving microbiome plays an important role in everything from mood, immunity to digestion.
Top Tip: Instead of thinking about your 5-a-day, we recommend aiming for 30 plant points a week. This means eating 30 different types of plants every week to maximise variation – this includes fruit, vegetables, pulses, wholegrains, tempeh, herbs and spices.
Diet & Neurotransmitter Synthesis
Serotonin, often referred to as the “feel-good” chemical, is a neurotransmitter that has many essential functions in the body, including the regulation of mood. Low serotonin levels have been associated with increased susceptibility to anxiety, depression, and seasonal affective disorder. The production of serotonin relies on specific nutrients, particularly tryptophan, an amino acid that can be found in foods such as bananas, nuts, seeds & legumes. Incorporating these foods into our diet can support serotonin production, helping to facilitate a more positive mood.
Top Tip: Another great way to support serotonin production is to get adequate sunlight during the day. We recommend opening your curtains first thing and getting sunlight into your eyes – even better if you can take a short walk before you start your day – this helps regulate your circadian rhythm and neurotransmitter synthesis.
Balancing Blood Sugar Levels
Our food choices exert a direct impact on our blood sugar levels. Consumption of high-sugar or refined carbohydrate-rich foods can trigger blood sugar spikes, followed by subsequent crashes, resulting in mood swings, irritability, and fatigue. On the flip side, opting for a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, helps maintain stable blood sugar levels, making you feel more balanced throughout the day.
Top-Tip: Start your day with a high-protein snack or breakfast (yes, even before coffee). Protein slows the digestion of carbohydrates/fats, helping to keep your blood sugar steady after you wake up and break your nighttime fast.
Nutrients for Brain Health
Certain nutrients play a pivotal role in supporting optimal brain health and cognitive function. Omega-3 fatty acids, abundant in oily fish, walnuts, and flaxseed, have been associated with a reduced risk of depression and improved cognitive performance. Additionally, B vitamins found in whole grains, leafy greens, and legumes are essential to produce neurotransmitters including serotonin & dopamine. B-vits also play a crucial role in cellular energy production and low levels are associated with fatigue, stress intolerance, and anxiety.
Top Tip: We recommend eating a handful of nuts/seeds every day – not only are they great high-protein snacks, but they are full of brain-healthy nutrients to keep you at your cognitive peak.
The Impact of Hydration
The significance of proper hydration is often overlooked in discussions about food and mood. Dehydration can impair cognitive function, mood stability, and overall energy levels. Ensuring adequate water intake throughout the day is essential to remain alert and focused.
Top Tip: Get a reusable water bottle and aim for at least 2 litres of water a day. If you find it boring, try adding a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime.
When it comes to mental health, the food we consume plays a huge role. By making conscious choices to look after our gut, balance blood sugar levels, and incorporate essential nutrients, we can positively influence our physical & mental well-being.
We challenge you to try some of our top tips and see how small changes can have a big impact.