How have you been feeling lately? If your answer is stressed out or overwhelmed, you’re certainly not alone. The topic of mental health and mood disorders have been gaining awareness in recent years, and for good reason. What was once “taboo” is becoming much more accepted in our society, and there are more and more resources available to help support people like you who may be struggling.
This article will highlight how something that we do every day (eat!) can make a big impact on how we feel both physically and mentally.
How food impacts mood
We know that what we eat impacts how we feel, but did you also know that how we feel impacts what we choose to eat? If you’ve ever reached for some sweet or savory carbs when stressed, for example, you’ve participated in this connection firsthand (as most of us have!).
Food is made up of both macronutrients–carbs, protein, and fat, as well as micronutrients–things like vitamins and minerals. Each of these nutrients plays a role in producing neurotransmitters, which are brain chemicals that impact our mood and feeling of wellbeing. When we don’t eat well, we limit our body’s access to certain nutrients, which can contribute to mental health disorders. In other words, food IS medicine for our mood, too!
Eating habits that can negatively impact mood:
Below are just some of the ways that our diet can negatively impact our mood.
– Cutting out entire food groups from your diet, since different food groups offer different nutrients.
– Not eating enough, as this automatically restricts access to nutrients.
– Not eating often enough, since going long periods of time without eating can lower blood sugar, energy levels, and focus which negatively impacts hormones and can make us cranky (we’ve all likely experienced this!)
– Lack of variety in the diet, which restricts the intake of essential vitamins and minerals (think picky eaters or those who primarily eat the same things over and over again).
– Eating too many processed foods, which tend to be highly inflammatory due to the chemicals, preservatives, and unhealthy fats they contain. Inflammation has been closely linked by research to mood disorders, and people who suffer from these disorders tend to eat a diet higher in pro-inflammatory foods.
– Not eating enough fiber, which plays a role in our gut health. There is evolving research on the subject of the gut-brain axis, which is the link between how our gut bacteria influence our central nervous system, including the brain.
Best foods & supplements to support mental health
As mentioned, food is medicine! There are so many delicious foods that can positively impact mood. Note that while supplementation can be helpful and indicated for many people, the first place that nutrients should come from is whole, minimally processed foods. Consider supplementing if your diet may be lacking in a particular nutrient, or are interested in achieving a greater impact on mood. Also, note that dosing can vary so it is best to check with a healthcare professional for specific guidance.
– High fiber carbohydrates– Carbs help produce serotonin, which is a “feel-good” chemical in the brain. This explains why many of us reach for carbs to help us feel better during times of stress or low mood. Including healthy sources of complex carbs will still help produce serotonin but without the negative impact of too much sugar.
Food examples: fruits & veggies, nuts, beans, & whole grains like oats and quinoa
– High-quality protein-Protein produces tryptophan which also plays a role in serotonin production (as well as sleep!). Eating protein in combination with carbs helps support tryptophan release even great. Food examples: beans, lentils, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and nut/seed butters, minimally processed cheeses, chicken breast, and lean turkey, beef, and pork
– Magnesium-This mineral promotes better sleep. If you’ve ever suffered from insomnia or frequently don’t get enough high-quality sleep, you know firsthand how a lack of sleep can take a negative toll on mood! Food examples: almonds, avocados, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, leafy greens, beans, bananas, and tofu. Magnesium may be taken as a supplement and the form magnesium glycinate is most commonly used for insomnia and sleep disturbances.
– Vitamin D– Vitamin D plays an important role in the nervous system and mood. People who are deficient (which sadly is over 1 billion people) are more prone to experiencing depression and anxiety. Your body can make vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, yet many factors can interfere with this and it’s usually not enough to meet daily needs.
Food examples: There are very few natural food sources of vitamin D, but some include egg yolks, portobello mushrooms which have been exposed to sunlight, and some types of fish
Research shows that supplementing with vitamin D3 may be more effective at raising blood vitamin D levels compared to vitamin D2, so keep that in mind if supplementing.
– Omega-3 fatty acids-Higher intake of these essential fats are linked to a lower risk of depression and an overall better mood.
Food examples: Fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, & cod liver oil as well as walnuts, chia, hemp and flaxseed
Supplements can come from fish, krill and cod liver oil as well as from algae. Be sure to get a combination of both EPA + DHA if supplementing.
– B Vitamins-These help produce neurotransmitters that influence mental health. Folate, vitamin B6, and B12 are specifically important for mood, and a deficiency of these is linked to greater risk of depression and other mental health disorders.
Food examples: meat, fish, and poultry as well as green vegetables, lentils, eggs, and whole grains are all good sources. Supplementing is an option and is best done in combination with other vitamins and minerals in the form of a high quality multivitamin.
– Probiotics-The research on the role of probiotics and mood disorders is still evolving, but some evidence exists to show that because probiotics can help improve our gut health, they may have an indirect positive impact on mood as well.
Food examples: fermented vegetables like kimchi & sauerkraut, yogurt with live & active cultures, kombucha, kefir, and fermented soy products like miso and tempeh.
Choose supplements carefully, since different strains of probiotic bacteria play different roles in the body. It is best to choose a product that contains multiple strains to cover multiple bases.
– Anti-inflammatory foods-Since inflammation can contribute to mental illness, eating foods that fight against it can have a positive effect on mood.
Food examples: any source of omega-3’s, as well as herbs & spices like turmeric & ginger, and berries, green tea, and most vegetables.
The power of nutrition really is incredible, and food can be used as medicine for our moods and stress levels similarly to how it can impact other health conditions. Eating well can be delicious while also supporting mental health at the same time! Keep in mind that using nutrition to help balance your mood may work best when used in combination with prescribed medications and/or other interventions, so always check with your healthcare provider before considering stopping or reducing any other treatments. Consider choosing 1-2 things from this post that are practical to implement into your diet and lifestyle and expect to start reaping the benefits of a better mood and sense of wellbeing today!