How food affects your mood: Healthy Diet Plan
Explore the effect food can have on our mood with nutritionist Kerry Torrens. Read on to discover how feelings of anxiety, low mood and even lack of interest may be down to what you eat.
What causes low mood?
How does food influence my mental well-being?
What does the research on food and mood say?
How can I support my mood with food?
Start by making these five simple changes to what and how you eat:
1. Eat a minimum of 5-a-day
2. Eat the right fats
3. Eat a low-GI diet
4. Eat gut-friendly foods
Frequently dubbed ‘the second brain’, our gut plays an important role in keeping our moods lifted. For this reason, following a gut-friendly diet which supports your gut microbiome is key. Minimise your use of processed foods, which often contain additives such as emulsifiers – these may disrupt beneficial gut bacteria. Include fermented foods daily such as kefir, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi and live yogurt – these top up levels of good gut bacteria. Wholegrains, as well as legumes, contribute the fibre needed to fuel our gut microbes, so by including oats, wholewheat bread or pasta and pulses in your diet, you’ll be helping your gut microbes prosper. If you’re not used to fibre in the diet, start slowly. One option is to support your gut microbes by creating resistant starch – you can do this by cooking and cooling rice, pasta and potatoes. This method of preparation changes the chemical structure of the carbohydrate, creating a starch which behaves more like fibre. This will keep you fuller for longer, slows the release of energy and fuels your gut microbes.
5. Eat adequate amounts of protein (with carbs)
Levels of the feel-good brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine are influenced by what we eat, as well as the amount of physical activity we do. Our brain uses the amino acid tryptophan to make serotonin, but whilst this amino acid is plentiful in animal foods including turkey and tuna, studies suggest it’s not necessarily the meat-based meals which optimise our serotonin levels. That’s because when we eat protein-rich foods, competition from other amino acids can prevent tryptophan from entering the brain. Instead, studies suggest by eating a carbohydrate meal with protein we promote insulin release, which encourages our muscles to absorb competing amino acids. This makes it easier for tryptophan to increase serotonin levels in the brain. All of which supports the idea that plant-based proteins combined with complex carbs such as wholegrains and legumes may be a better dietary strategy for those with low levels of serotonin.
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This article was updated on 9 May 2022.