How To Boost Your Mood Through Food
What, you may ask, has what I eat, got to do with mood or mental health?
In my nutritional therapy clinic, I’m noticing a huge rise in clients reporting anxiety as a symptom. This, together with low mood and chronic stress, have a really detrimental effect on our overall health and wellbeing.
The change in seasons and the onset of the darker evenings and colder weather can affect our mood and energy levels. Here are some tips to help to ease this transition and to help boost mood through your food.
Keep those blood sugar levels on track
Eating too much sugar or foods that convert quickly into sugar such as white bread, cereals and processed foods is the quickest way to send our mind and mood reeling. Eating these foods sends our blood glucose levels upwards, giving a temporary energy boost. The body can only deal with a very small amount of sugar at a time, if too much is eaten the body has to deal with this through a series of steps, often storing excess sugar as fat, often around the abdomen.
However, what goes up must come down, so this lift in energy is swiftly followed by a blood sugar low and this is when we get that energy slump, loss of concentration and craving for more sugar. When our blood sugar levels drop too low, the stress hormone adrenaline kicks in, telling the brain to eat something sugary. We all know someone who gets ‘hangry’ when their blood sugar drops. Adrenaline to anxiety is like pouring petrol on a fire so avoiding overdoing these foods (as well as foods high in caffeine and stimulants) will help keep irritability, nervousness and feelings of unease at bay.
Look after your adrenals
The adrenal glands are what the body uses to respond to stress. These little glands pump out adrenaline and cortisol; these are our ‘fight or flight’ hormones.
Modern day life is such that many of us are chronically stressed – balancing life/work, deadlines, traffic, elderly or ill parents, financial difficulties etc. and our cortisol levels can be elevated all of the time. To help buffer the effects of stress we need a very sound and nutritious diet, regular exercise, and stress management tools/techniques.
Cutting down on caffeine and alcohol will help your adrenal system and energy levels. This can be tough for some, but coffee releases adrenaline into your system. If you can’t go without caffeine a good quality green tea such as Matcha is a nice alternative.
Alcohol affects your quality of sleep and gives you a sugar spike, which will lead to blood-sugar dysregulation, and fatigue the following day, all of which will affect your mood.
Look after your Gut
This week it was revealed that 2 scientists in UCC are developing a probiotic specifically for depression. The gut is like your second brain: The brain talks to the gut, and the gut talks to the brain via the vagus nerve. If you think of it, we often feel in our gut (think of the term butterflies in our tummy or gut instinct). Anyone with a digestive condition such as IBS or reflux will know how stress makes their symptoms worse.
So, populate the gut with certain strains of beneficial bacteria either with fermented foods or a specific probiotic supplement, and feed those good bacteria with prebiotic fibre found in leeks, onions, asparagus and under-ripe bananas for example (some probiotic formulas contain prebiotics such as FOS also.) Stress also impacts the peristalsis of the gut, and how well we digest our food and assimilate our nutrients.
Improve your overall diet
If your diet consists of lots of beige foods like bread, pasta, chips and processed foods that are devoid of any real nutrients; you won’t be getting the nutrients that your body and brain need to be appropriately nourished. Processed foods, with their particular combination of sugars, chemicals, salt and unhealthy fats, trigger a reward system in your brain which makes you crave more and more of them (I call this the ‘once you pop, you can’t stop' phenomenon!)
Aim to have a diet that has good quality and variety of proteins (the amino acids in protein foods are the building blocks for the neurotransmitter in your brain,) healthy fats, and lots of colourful veg, so that your body will get the nutrients it so badly craves to nourish your brain and your body. This in turn, will help you to feel more energised, more positive, less lethargic and better able to cope with the stresses and strains of life.
A shout out to magnesium: This very calming mineral is low in many of our diets. Inadequate magnesium appears to reduce serotonin levels, and there is some good evidence to show that it can help with anxiety.
Good food sources are dark leafy greens, fish, beans and lentils, brown rice, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, nuts, kale, peas, sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, asparagus, and avocado.
Make sure that you keep your B vitamins topped up: Vitamins B3, B6 and B12 and the B’s in general, play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood, brain function and mental sharpness. Food sources include cauliflower, bananas, pulses, cabbage, watercress, spinach, squash, and broccoli.
Don’t be fat phobic: Research consistently shows that Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are beneficial in both depression, post-partum depression, and mood/cognition in general. In terms of food selection, oily cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring have the highest Omega 3 levels, and ideally should be eaten a couple of times a week.
Other sources are flaxseeds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds and avocado. You may also want to consider boosting your essential fatty acids levels with a good quality fish oil.
Nutrition and lifestyle changes are a very underutilised tool in mental health conditions or mood disorders associated with stress. There is compelling evidence of a cause and effect relationship between nutrients and mood. Nutritional therapy is about looking at a clients’ overall diet and lifestyle, and making the necessary changes with a bespoke food, lifestyle and nutraceutical plan.
Need some more personalised guidance? Ciara has nutritional therapy clinics in Drogheda and Dundalk in County Louth. For more information see ciararyannutrition.com or contact her on Facebook.