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The Food and Mood Connection

By on October 11, 2017
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Can what you eat really influence your mood? Food and our eating behaviours do have the ability to influence our mood and impact chemical levels in our brain that help control mood. 

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has a variety of roles including regulating our appetite and mediating our moods. About 95% of the bodies serotonin is found in the gastrointestinal tract (GI), suggesting that our GI not only helps digest food but also plays a role in our mood.

Our guts are filled with bacteria that help make us healthy, protecting the lining of our intestines and limiting the access to ‘bad’ bacteria. Our gut bacteria are also responsible for limiting inflammation in the body, guiding nutrient absorption from the foods we eat, and acting as a connector between our brain and gut.

Serotonin (the feel good chemical) along with other neurotransmitters are influenced by the good bacteria in our guts, suggesting that healthy diets may play an important role in our mood.
More research is needed to truly understand the relationship between food and mood, however we do know that diet, exercise, and sleep are associated with the development, progression, and treatment of depression.

So, improving your diet may not be the only answer to mood improvement, but it can definitely play an important role in your overall plan.

    So, what can you do
to help improve your
mood through food? 

1. Eat a balanced diet that includes complex carbohydrates: carbohydrates play an important role in helping increase tryptophan levels in your brain, which in turn plays a crucial role in the synthesis of serotonin. However, this doesn’t mean we should overeat carbohydrates. Instead we should focus on including healthy complex carbohydrates in our diet like more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes that provide us carbohydrates but other important nutrients as well. In addition, too much restriction in your diet could leave out potential mood boosting foods and nutrients.

2. Eat healthy fats. Healthy fats including omega-3s have been associated with improvements in asthma, arteritis, blood fat levels, and even depression. Various studies found positive associations between increased omega-3 intake and reduced risk of depression. You can find omega-3s in fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, sardines etc.), nuts and seeds (such as walnuts and flaxseeds).

3. Consume probiotics (aka good bacteria for your gut). As mentioned above our gut and brain are interconnected, therefore what we feed our bellies also works to fuel our brain. The more ‘good’ bacteria we have the more protection our bodies have against ‘bad’ bacteria. You can find probiotics in fermented foods such as, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kombucha. You can also find probiotics in different dairy products like plain yogurts and kefir.  If these options don’t sound appealing to you, you can ask your health care provider for some probiotic supplement recommendations.

4. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables provide our body with many of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to function optimally. They are also rich in antioxidants, which play an important role in reducing stress and inflammation in our bodies. Research has suggested that a diet high in fruits and vegetables can decrease the risk of depression.

If your looking for an approach to eating that is balanced, healthy and can improve your mood, perhaps the Mediterranean diet approach is right for you. The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (i.e. nuts and seeds), legumes, and fish, with limited dairy, meat, and processed food. Research studies have found links between following a Mediterranean diet and reduced risk of depression.

Bottom line: eating more fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains, and fish, while limiting processed foods can help improve your mood. Provide your body with the important nutrients and vitamins it needs to be healthy.

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Angela Wallace is a Registered Dietitian, Personal Trainer, and Family Food Expert. She runs a private practice (Eat Right Feel Right) that offers various nutrition and exercise programs. In addition, she works as a health educator and project coordinator with the Guelph Family Health Study, a family based health study at the University of Guelph. Visit: www.eatrightfeelright.ca 

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