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Food & Mood: Is there a Connection?

food_for_mood1Food & Mood: Is there a Connection?

Over the past few years, scientific research has explored the link between food and mental health giving us more insight on how certain foods can affect our mood. More studies are now showing a link between diet & mental health where dietary changes could cause changes in our brain structure both physiologically & chemically.

From previous experience with working in mental health, food can definitely play a role in maintaining mental & physical health. If you think about it, a nourishing and well balanced diet will give us an overall sense of well being. Following a balanced diet that includes all food groups is recommended for all as well as those with mental health illnesses such as clinical depression & anxiety disorders. So where is the link? Here is a breakdown of different nutrients and their effect on both our mental & physical health.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates in their digested form (glucose) are our body’s primary supply of energy especially to our brain. Ensuring that you have an adequate supply of carbohydrates in your diet ensures that you will have enough glucose in your blood. This will definitely impact our ability to focus and concentrate. When there is not enough glucose in the blood, we start to feel weak, tired and out of focus. Hence, our bodies are low on fuel for our brain which subsequently affects our mood. We become irritable, cranky and short tempered! This is known to happen with restrictive diets and with erratic eating habits.

Another theory that links carbohydrates with mood is carbohydrate craving and comfort eating. Some researchers have suggested that carbohydrates raise the levels of serotonin in the brain which is a ” calming chemical”.  Could this possible theory explain the consumption of sweet comfort foods such as cakes and chocolate when people are feeling down? In practice, there has not been sufficient scientific evidence to support this on a physiological basis.

 Vitamins & Mineral

We all need enough vitamins and minerals to help our bodies function properly. Being deficient in certain vitamins because of poor eating can have certain effects or your mood & energy levels. The British Dietetic Association have summarised this link perfectly in the following table: (Resource from BDA 2010 – Food & Mood Fact Sheet)



 Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are a class of polyunsaturated fats (aka “good fats”) that need to be obtained from the diet. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are the type of omega-3 fatty acids which are believed to be the most valuable forms of omega-3 for our body. Omega 3s are found in both plant and marine foods, but it is the omega-3 fats from marine sources that have the strongest evidence for health benefits. Multiple studies have been performed to investigate their effect on mental health especially depression especially EPA where some studies have called it the natural antidepressant. Omega 3 fats are believed to help in building your brain’s cell connections. Also, the more omega-3s in your blood, the more serotonin you are likely to make, increasing your happy hormones and making you more responsive the calming chemical’s effect. Sources of Omega 3 include:  Oily fish – salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout, herring, sardines, walnuts, flaxseed, canola oil, soybean oil.

Personally, I am a firm believer that foods have an effect on our mood as we have all have experienced that first hand. If we miss out on a meal, are dehydrated or are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, our bodies will call out to us. Look back at what your diet consists of and ask yourself whether you are getting a good mix of nutrients on a daily basis. Are you eating a good amount of fruits & vegetables daily? Do you include Low GI Carbohydrates which help with long lasting energy? Do you drink enough water? How much fast food and refined sugars do you eat? All these questions will help you establish whether your diet is affecting your state of mind and whether your body is smiling on the inside!

1 Comment
  1. Great post however I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Cheers!
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