We have all probably experienced a time when our mood influenced our food choices. Whether you crave comfort foods when sad, or lose your appetite when stressed, we know mood can influence how we eat. But what if what we eat can also influence our mood? Research suggests that this might be the case.
WHAT IS THE CONNECTION?
What we eat can impact many of the systems in our bodies that influence mood, depression, anxiety and other aspects of our mental health. These connections are still being investigated, but according to a recent research review, three areas seem likely to play a role. Eating patterns that lead to frequent changes in blood sugar trigger hormone responses that may alter mood. Brain health has been tied to inflammation and certain foods have been associated with either increased or decreased inflammation. And finally, our gut health, which is closely tied to the way we eat may also influence our mental health.
WHICH FOODS ARE INVOLVED?
Rapid and frequent changes in blood sugar are usually connected with refined carbohydrates often found in sweet snacks, sugary drinks and grains that are not whole . Limiting high sugar, low fiber foods or pairing them with other nutrient rich foods can help avoid spikes in blood sugar. Foods that provide omega-3 fatty acids such as fish, nuts and seeds are thought to help reduce inflammation. For gut health, probiotics (yogurt with active cultures, fermented foods) and prebiotics (high fiber foods like oats, asparagus, apples) can help support.
Our mental and physical health are complex and can be influenced by many factors. Even if one food is found to show benefits, our overall diet as well as physical activity, sleep and stress levels will also play a role. The good news is that healthy eating has almost no side effects and many potential benefits. Healthy eating patterns, like the Mediterranean Diet, promote physical health and may also help to support our mental health.
Firth Joseph, Gangwisch James E, Borisini Alessandra, Wootton Robyn E, Mayer Emeran A. Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? BMJ 2020; 369 :m2382