Our theme this week is Food & Mood. We’ll chat about how food choices impact our mental health and mood, and how to find what works for your lifestyle and help you feel your best both physically and mentally.
Though our emotions and stress levels are often influenced by things that happen outside of our control, there are lots of ways we can influence our moods and how we respond to stress. We’ll discuss some ways you can change up your eating habits to help support your mood and stress response.
If you’ve ever gone too long without eating, you know how it can make you feel: low energy and irritable, hungry and angry (also known as “hangry”). That feeling usually comes from blood sugar dipping a little too low, which can occur in anyone, whether they have diabetes or not.
Our moods are also influenced by chemicals called neurotransmitters. Chronic stress can affect the levels of neurotransmitters and hormones in your body, which can have a negative impact on your mood and how you’re able to respond to stressful situations in the future.
Let’s go over some simple ways to incorporate foods into your daily life that can positively impact your mental state and boost your mood.
When we’re stressed or feeling low we tend to reach for highly refined carbs (like bread, pasta, chips, or cookies). Doughnuts in the morning or chips in the afternoon may give us temporary energy and a short mood lift, but that quickly comes crashing down with our blood sugar. When planning meals or snacks, make sure to include protein, healthy fats, and carbs with fiber. Eating balanced meals will keep you off the rollercoaster of blood sugar spikes and crashes. Regular meals and snacks help keep blood sugar balanced, which means better energy and mood throughout the day. Check out the Brook Healthy Plate for more info, or you can chat with us in your Brook app.
In addition to eating balanced meals and snacks, having variety will help ensure you have the protein and nutrients needed for making neurotransmitters – essential chemicals for brain health. Here are some key nutrients to include in your diet:
Tryptophan is an amino acid, or protein building block, used to make the neurotransmitter serotonin, which influences mood and memory among other things. It can be found in lots of foods such as salmon, poultry, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and eggs.
This vitamin is used to make neurotransmitters and can be found in high amounts in tuna, salmon, poultry, walnuts, pistachios, chickpeas, leafy greens, and potatoes.
B12 is also used to make neurotransmitters. Animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs are where most vitamin B12 comes from. If you don’t frequently eat these foods, you may need to supplement to make sure you are getting enough.
This nutrient is important for making neurotransmitters. Eggs are a great source of choline, and it can also be found in meat, poultry, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli.
This is an important mineral that has hundreds of functions in the body, including sending signals between nerves and other cells which is important for clear thinking and feeling our best. You can find magnesium in avocado, beans, almonds, cashews, seeds, dark chocolate, and dark leafy greens.
Deficiencies in vitamin D have been linked with mood problems and depression. It isn’t found in high amounts in many foods except for fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, eggs (yolks) and mushrooms. We can actually make this vitamin ourselves by exposing our skin to some sun. Keep in mind, if you live at a more northern latitude you won’t be able to make enough (or any!) during the winter. If you are concerned about your vitamin D level, be sure to reach out to your doctor about whether or not you should supplement.
These healthy fats are important for brain health and mood, and can become depleted during chronic stress. Not getting enough Omega-3’s in your diet also makes it more difficult to handle stress. Add these fats into your diet by eating chia seeds, ground flax seeds, walnuts, and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines.
Everyday we see new research that shows a potential link between the health of our gut bacteria (microbiome) and our mood. Chronic stress can negatively affect your microbiome, so while you’re working on stress management, it’s imperative you think about supporting your gut bacteria as well. To keep those beneficial bugs happy and healthy, include probiotic and prebiotics foods in your diet. Probiotic foods are foods that are cultured or fermented, and therefore contain beneficial bacteria, like yogurt and sauerkraut (these will be refrigerated and usually say “live cultures” somewhere on the label). Prebiotic foods, such as banana, asparagus, and oats, are high in a type of fiber that our helpful gut bacteria like to eat. We have more tips for improving the health of your microbiome here.
When we’re stressed, we tend to consume foods that might temporarily make us feel good, but these foods may actually cause more damage to our mood in the long-term. Try to minimize intake of caffeine, alcohol, and foods high in refined sugar. Refined sugars cause an increase in certain neurotransmitters that can trigger overeating. Both caffeine and alcohol can disrupt sleep, which can worsen stress and mood problems. Alcohol can also cause changes in stress hormones, potentially increasing risk of heart disease, anxiety, and depression.
Staying hydrated is essential for overall good health. Instead of reaching for sodas or other sugary drinks, have your beverages pull double-duty to provide hydration and help reduce stress. While green tea does have some caffeine, it also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that can be helpful for reducing anxiety. Herbal teas such as chamomile, passionflower, and mint are well known for having calming effects. You can brew these teas and drink immediately for a relaxing ritual, or stick them in the fridge to have iced tea you can sip on all day.
While food may not be the end-all-be-all when it comes to mental health and mood, over the long-term, dietary changes can help with mood support and how your mind and body react to stress. Focus on eating regular, well balanced meals, including a variety of foods in your diet, and limiting your intake of refined sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. These are some daily habits you can work on that can help influence how you feel from day to day.
on July 21st, 2020. Kelsea is a Registered Dietitian with her Master's degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA, and is one of our Health Coaches.