Written by Talia Cecchele
Have you ever pondered just how important the connection is between what we eat and how we feel? Food isn’t just a source of nutrition. The energy and nutrients we get from food can impact our physical and mental health, including our mood. Did you know that at rest, the brain uses up to 20% of the body’s energy?
Our brain requires a variety of nutrients to function at its best. A poorly balanced diet can impact the way we think and feel about the food choices we make. When we do not give our brain enough food, or the right types of foods, it can lead to feelings of fatigue, poor concentration, unstable blood sugar levels, cravings, mood swings, depression and anxiety. In the reverse, our mood can also impact on our food decisions! For example, many people find if they have a low mood they tend to choose higher energy foods, comfort eat or overeat. So how can you improve your mood through what you eat?
Here’s my top 10 tips:
1. Eat regular meals and snacks. Eating 5-6 smaller meals and snacks will help to improve concentration, mood and energy levels. Eating regularly will stabilise blood sugar levels which will help regulate appetite and reduce cravings. Aim to eat approximately every 3-4 waking hours.
2. Eat a variety of food from the core food groups (fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and alternatives, breads and cereals) to get the whole range of nutrients, vitamins and minerals our body needs.
3. Change to a plant-based diet. A high intake of vegetables and fruit has been shown to be associated with a decreased risk of depression. Fill at least half your plate with a rainbow of vegetables to ensure you get all the right vitamins, minerals and fibre.
4. Include a carbohydrate at each meal. Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for our brain. Including them at every meal can improve concentration, energy levels and reduce mood swings. Choose quality carbohydrates such as wholegrain rice, pasta or bread, potato, fruits and vegetables
5. Eat a protein-rich food at every meal and snack. Amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are key to activating chemical pathways in the brain. Iron is also an important nutrient, found in higher levels in many protein foods (such as meat, eggs and legumes), and plays a vital role in transporting oxygen around the body
6. Eat fats, especially essential omega-3 fats. Ditch the myth that fats are bad for you! The brain is approximately 60% fat, so inclusion of fats in our diet is key to optimal brain function. Omega-3 fats (oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines, flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts and olive oil) are particularly good for brain function and for preventing depression.
7. Eat foods to make your gut flourish. There is new research linking a healthy gut to improved mood, reduced depression and reduced cell inflammation (all through the gut-brain axis). Prebiotics (the food for bacteria) found in high fibre foods such as fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes are essential to creating the right environment for probiotics (the good bacteria) to thrive. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha.
8. Eat less ultra processed foods and refined sugar as these can have a negative impact on your gut health if eaten in large amounts. Eating an unbalanced diet (including too many foods with minimal nutrition) can also make you feel fatigued, increase food cravings and mood swings.
9. Drink adequate fluids. With up to 60% of the body being made up of water, it is an essential part of a balanced diet. Dehydration can cause irritability, poor concentration and fatigue. Be sure to drink at least 2-2.5L of fluids per day.
10. Drink less caffeine. Caffeine acts as a stimulant and excessive intake has been linked to anxiety, depression and poor sleep. Try to keep coffee to 1-2 cups daily in the morning, and switch to decaf or herbal tea in the afternoon.
Have you read my latest blog post on Building a Balanced Breakfast?
Talia is a registered dietitian working in private practice and as an eating disorder specialist dietitian in London's leading private mental health hospital. As a freelance dietitian, Talia not only offers 1:1 consultations but can present at your workplace, create recipes or articles or host a cooking demonstration. To enquire please fill out a contact form.