Can food affect your mood is a question that seems to be quite popular in these uncertain times.
When it comes to lifestyle factors that can influence your mood/brain function the top three things are movement, food and sleep.
In this article we will explore the impact food can have on our brain, mood and mental health.
Can food have an impact on our mood?
Yes, although there is not one cure or super food that can ‘boost’ your mood, food and drink can have an impact on your brain which in turn may affect your mood. For example drinking a cup of coffee can shift the brains function, possibly making you feel more ‘alert’. Foods do also impact the brain however, this happens a lot slower than a drink and your overall diet will affect this rather than just consuming one particular food.
The British Dietetic Association state that when you do not eat enough nutrient rich foods your body may lack vital vitamins and minerals which may affect your energy, mood and brain function. When it comes to vitamins and minerals the food first approach is optimal however, in some circumstances supplements maybe beneficial for example; folic acid in pregnancy and Vitamin D in the winter months/isolation.
Carbohydrates = Glucose = Brain Power?
The ability for us to concentrate and focus comes from energy supplies from blood glucose up to your brain. The glucose in our blood comes from the carbohydrates we eat such as fruit, vegetables, cereals, potatoes and pasta etc.
Our brain uses 20% of our energy so when we do not have enough glucose in our blood (known as hypoglycaemia) it can make us weak and fuzzy minded. To avoid this it is recommended to eat regular meals and snacks containing some carbohydrates to ensure you have enough glucose in your blood. Not only are carbohydrates great for energy but they also contain nutrients such as calcium and B vitamins.
Serotonin which is a messenger chemical in the brain has been said to improve mood. Serotonin is made with a part of protein that we get from our diet and can be absorbed by the brain when carbohydrates are eaten. Studies have shown that not consuming adequate carbs can lead to low moods.
What should I include in my diet?
A diet high in fibre (wholegrain, legumes, beans) has been shown to help with depression and improve mental health. Fibre is great as it feeds our gut microbiome and produces short chain fatty acids that support the protection of the brain. In the UK it is recommended that we have around 30g fibre each day. Polyphenols that are primarily in plant based foods such as dark coloured veggies, berries, nuts and soy have been shown to benefit brain function, they are aso great to add to your diet for overall health.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 helps the function of brain cells having a crucial role to play in brain and eye development. Omega 3 can be obtained through the diet in foods such as oily fish (salmon and mackerel) and flaxseeds however, if you are plant based you may want to consider a DHA Omega 3 supplement. This is because Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid, so our body cannot make it on it’s on. DHA constitutes 25% of our brains fatty acids which help to ‘fire up’ the brain if this is not consumed through our diet our brain can be deficient.
Other key nutrients to consider when thinking about food and mood are:
Lack of iron may leave you feeling weak, tired and lethargic. Foods rich in iron include; red meat, beans, fish and fortified cereals. Please see blog here for more info.
A diet that is low in B vitamins can result in tiredness and feeling depressed and irritable. Try to consume fortified foods and animal proteins to help with your daily intake.
Selenium deficiency has been linked to negative moods, try consuming foods such as brazil nuts, meat, fish and seeds.
The BDA say that feeling good can come from a diet that provides adequate amounts of carbohydrates at regular times to keep blood glucose levels stable. As a rule a balanced diet is key, with plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, proteins and fats will provide your body with nutrients for good health and good mood.
As always if you have any questions please contact me or your healthcare professional. This guidance is supported by the British Dietetic Association.
Some great resources for mental health support are: