Mood and Food – you are what you eat?
I don’t know about you, but I remember being told that line, “you are what you eat”, as a kid to make me eat more fruit and vegies. The idea that eating healthy food keeps us healthy on the inside and out. I suppose this simple concept gets lost when you get older and make food choices for yourself. Society and its expectations change, fast food chains multiply, we have less time to prepare whole foods; and convenience food becomes a normal staple.
We all have good days and bad days; we all have foods we like more, or like less. But is there a connection between feeling well and the foods we have eaten? Do some foods make us feel lethargic or cranky? Is it possible to plan a diet for a good mood? These are complex questions and there is constantly evolving research – but the short answer is yes, food does affect our mood.
Years ago, I was referred to see a Dietician and it astounded me how big the impact of my diet played in making my body work as good as it should. Suddenly things like gut health, hormones, insulin and immune system were being talked about. Our mood is also affected, and it can seem like a chicken and the egg scenario – when our mood is low we tend to make poorer choices due to low motivation, cravings and having less energy.
Research has shown that if we are low in certain vitamins and minerals (often from not eating the best food choices), our mood can be significantly impacted. The following vitamins and minerals (and the foods they can be found in) play a major role in boosting mood:
Vitamin B – wholegrain cereals, animal protein foods such as meat/fish, eggs and dairy, leafy greens
Vitamin C – broccoli, strawberries, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits, capsicum, tomato, sweet potato, kale, cauliflower, pineapple
Vitamin E – sunflower seeds, spinach, nuts, avocado, asparagus, broccoli, kale
Iron – red meat, fish, poultry, spinach, legumes, cereals, dried fruits, nuts, pumpkin, broccoli, tofu
Folate – Green vegetables, oranges and other citrus fruits, beans and fortified foods such as yeast extract (marmite/vegemite) and fortified breakfast cereals.
Selenium – Brazil nuts, meat, fish, seeds and wholemeal bread.
Omega 3 fatty acids – Fatty fish, flaxseeds, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts
Recently, scientists found that societies that don’t eat enough omega-3s may have higher rates of major depressive disorder. Other studies show that people who don’t often eat fish, a rich source of these fatty acids, are more likely to have depression.
And lastly, let’s not forget lifestyle factors that influence our mood, and food choices. Research shows that people who are obese may be more likely to become depressed. And, according to several studies, people who are depressed are more likely to become obese.Researchers believe that may be the result of changes in your immune system and hormones that come with depression.
Like most things, this all comes back to balance. And in these recent times of COVID 19 I think its fair to say for a lot of us our balance has tipped. It’s important to seek medical advice if you have been feeling a change in mood, energy or overall health. A thorough check up and a discussion with your GP and/or dietitian can assist with getting some balance back. A psychologist will help with identifying stressors or triggers, shifts in patterns, ways of thinking and modifying behaviour. A good start might be to reach for the apple, not the doughnut – after all, maybe an apple day can help keep the blues away.