In 2010, Mind, the mental health charity produced a report called The Mind Guide to Food and Mood. This report explored the way food and nutrition can affect our mental health.
It shows that there is indeed a connection between the food we eat and our general health, our mental health and mood.
Eating regular meals, drinking plenty of water and exercising, all contribute to how we feel.
To get a better idea of how we can improve our mood and mental health through our diets, Sian Baker from Pure Nutrition shared some of her nutrition knowledge.
Is there a link between a bad diet and bad moods?
When it comes to food and diet people are very individual. This is equally true of moods, and how a given situation makes us feel emotionally. There is a huge link between the gut and the brain, which is connected directly via the vagus nerve. Hormonal, neuronal and bacterial changes in the bowel are transmitted to the brain via the vagus nerve.
Each person has trillions of bacteria living in their large intestine. They are unique to the individual and called microbiota. What’s more, approximately 90% of serotonin is made in the gut. Studies show that gut bacteria has an influence on serotonin production. This suggests that microbiota has an influence on mood.
Healthy gut bacteria can be manipulated by diet. A diet lacking in nutrients and fibre, and high in sugar and refined products do little to support the gut bacteria. This often leads to an imbalance in bacteria or dysbiosis.
What food should we eat to improve our mood?
To encourage good general gut-health and maintain the integrity of the intestinal tract itself, probiotic and prebiotic foods are a good starting point. Encouraging growth of beneficial gut bacteria through probiotic foods such as:
Good quality plain yogurt, goat’s cheese, kefir, sauerkraut, good quality dark chocolate, microalgae (spirulina, chorella, blue-green algae), miso soup, pickles, tempuh
If you don’t eat these types of foods take a good quality probiotic on a daily basis. Next, you need to keep the gut bacteria well nourished through prebiotic foods. These are high fibre foods, which the bacteria feed on in the large intestine, allowing them to flourish, such as:
Raw chicory, raw dandelion greens, artichoke, onion, garlic, leeks, cabbage, asparagus, banana, pulses, root vegetables, apples
Supporting the stress cycle and controlling blood sugar are also important in moderating mood. If left unchecked, elevated stress hormones can lead to fatigue and low mood. Likewise, imbalanced blood sugar can mean highs and lows throughout the day, causing irritability, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and low mood.
What food should we avoid with relation to mood?
Stimulants and highly refined/processed foods are the most detrimental to mood. Caffeine stimulates the release of adrenaline, and high sugar foods lead to elevated blood sugar followed by subsequent low blood sugar which can lead to low mood.
Any other nutrition tips for improving diet and mental health?
Very general advice would be to look for the least processed and most nutrient-dense foods.
Keep sugary foods for treats on a more infrequent than frequent basis.
If you are experiencing highs and lows, consider taking a look at your day-to-day diet. The best and most revealing way is by keeping a food diary.