Nutrition for MHAW

Food and mood have a long-standing relationship, which goes beyond just eating a chocolate bar to feel good! All of the foods we consume can directly affect our mood.

If we supply our body with the correct, healthy, nutritious fuel from our diet, we provide it with the key building blocks required to create neurotransmitters, hormones, support cognitive health and more. 

Read on below to learn about the link between what we eat and mental health, using food to support our mood: 

Ever wondered why you feel irritable and frustrated when you miss a meal or are over-hungry? We have this thing called blood sugar aka blood glucose. All of the foods we eat directly impact our blood sugar levels, some more than others…. And certain foods can take our blood sugar too high, and too low. This is called the blood sugar roller coaster.  When your blood sugar is on a daily roller coaster ride, your mood is usually likely to follow. 

Over consuming sugars, refined carbohydrates, alcohol and missing meals can all lead to spikes and dips in blood sugar levels. These fluctuations in blood sugar levels can impact physical health and emotional wellbeing, putting stress on many-body systems. 

What can we do to get off this mood crashing roller coaster? Aim to eat well-balanced meals at every opportunity, with a mixture of complex carbohydrates, protein, good quality fats and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. 

There are a number of key vitamins and minerals that contribute to energy levels, relaxation, brain function and mood. These include:

  • Vitamin D- Vital for energy production and Dopamine and Serotonin production 
    • The best way to get Vitamin D is from sunshine exposure everyday. Alternatively, you can consider a Vitamin D3 supplement
  • Omega 3- Crucial for brain function, and also exerts anti-inflammatory actions that may help relieve depression 
    • Omega3 is found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel or plant sources such as chia seeds and walnuts
  • B Vitamins- play a key role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Low levels of B-12, B-6 and Folate may be linked to a higher risk of depression. 
    • B vitamins are found in many different diverse foods. The one to look out for is B12 which is only found in animal foods, so if you are vegan/plant-based you may wish to supplement
  • Magnesium-  This magic mineral may affect the brain functions that help to lower stress and anxiety
    • Magnesium is found in many different plant foods such as avocado, cashews, spinach and more

Protein-rich foods contain amino acids, which help produce key neurotransmitters in preventing and treating depression and anxiety, helping to regulate all thoughts and feelings. In addition, protein helps to keep us full and balance our blood sugar levels. 

Opt for a combination of good quality animal and plant-based proteins including legumes, nuts, seeds, and oily fish. 

Over 95% of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for feeling happy, is created in the Gut, therefore looking after our gut looks after the mind. Happy gut, happy mind.

When the digestive system is compromised, our gut is not as efficient at creating serotonin. Low levels of serotonin can bring down our mood, resulting in low mood and potential anxiety and depression.

Certain medications, environmental toxins, stress, pathogenic bacteria, overconsumption of processed foods and refined sugars can all contribute to leaky gut, a situation where the protective junctions of your intestinal lining become compromised. 

This can further lead to inflammation, which can cause neurological inflammation and have a big impact on our mood, energy, sleep patterns, concentration and more. 

Ways to support gut health include:

  • Eat a high fibre diet- fibre passes through the digestive system, pushing food along and helping to bulk up our stool and keep bowel movements regular.
  • Aim for diversity in your diet- as a more diverse microbiome is generally a healthier microbiome. 
  • Include prebiotic foods- these will promote the increase and health of friendly bacteria in the gut.
  • Increase your intake of live fermented foods- by adding beneficial bacteria and enzymes to the intestinal flora, fermented foods may increase the health of the gut microbiome and digestive system.
  • Don’t forget that stress management is key. Invest in self-care, slower movement, sleep quality and meditation.

Stimulants, including caffeine and alcohol, may impact your mood. When we consume caffeine, our body produces stress hormones in response. These stress hormones, such as Cortisol, can increase stress levels and potentially trigger mood changes.

Alcohol is a well-known depressant, commonly affecting mood, immune system, energy and sleep when consumed regularly. 

When consuming any stimulants, pay close attention to how it makes you feel. If you feel yourself getting anxious, irritable, low in mood or jittery, I recommend reducing or eliminating them from your diet, and monitor how you feel. 

Swap out for non-alcoholic alternatives such as MEDAS no-low beverages. 

Food can positively impact our mood, but if you are suffering or concerned about someone else’s mental health, it is important to reach out to a professional for support. MIND charity is a great place to start and offers some wonderful resources for people.