The Relationship Between Food and Mood

In recent years, thanks to a growing body of research in the area, we have come to learn more about the impact of food on mood. We now understand that food can make you feel some kind of way. Beyond the short term bliss that you experience from an incredible taste, food can actually impact hormones and chemical signals that impact your mood, emotions and behaviours. 

The human brain is always “on”. It is responsible for the operational management of the body, working tirelessly to keep you going. That means it requires a constant supply of fuel, from the food and fluid you decide to feed it. We know that certain foods can help in supporting the brain, while others can hinder the brain, slowing it down and impacting mood and mental wellbeing.

Low quality fuels from processed, refined foods are typically void of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and fibre. These low quality fuels are rich in fat and carbohydrate, and likely have artificial sweeteners and more. They are digested, absorbed and delivered to the brain rapidly, resulting in a rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin. Unfortunately, this surge is recognised by the body, triggering an immediate response, which is to then remove the sugar from the blood as quickly as it entered. This rapid rise and fall in blood sugar most certainly impacts your mood.

When blood sugar rises quickly in the minutes after you consume the low quality processed fuel, you feel incredible, surging toward the top of the world. But minutes later you come back down with a crash as the body releases cortisol, a stress hormone, adrenaline and glucagon. 

The stress response triggers behavioural changes that result in irrational actions, emotional responses and sugar-seeking actions, aka frantically raiding the cupboards for the next sugar fix only minutes after the first poor choice. Think of a toddler tantrum. Hopefully now you can see where this story goes? The cycle essentially continues until you go to bed. All as a result of that one bad decision.

Poor food choices can not only increase stress, but they may also make you feel sleepy and lethargic. The surge in blood sugar and insulin that follows the consumption of refined carbohydrates, can trigger the removal of several amino acids from the blood, increasing the concentration of tryptophan. Tryptophan is also an amino acid, but it can be used as a building block for the neurotransmitter serotonin if it passes the blood-brain barrier. Serotonin is known to increase feelings of lethargy and tiredness, even improving sleep. We have all experienced the nap after a large, carbohydrate-rich meal or snack as a result of these changes in the blood, hormones and neurotransmitters. 

Interestingly, around 95% of the serotonin available in the body is produced in the gut. The production of serotonin and many other neurotransmitters is supported by the beneficial gut bacteria that reside in the gastrointestinal tract. Poor gut health as a result of excess calories, low fibre intakes and highly refined foods, is also likely to impact the production of these vital chemical signals and therefore negatively affect mood and mental health. The research in this space is starting to develop, with links between diet and depression strengthening. 

Research has also demonstrated a clear link between hydration status and mood. With dehydration being linked with fatigue, general tiredness, decreased alertness and increased levels of confusion. Simply drinking enough water can prevent you from feeling moody and sluggish. 

At B.Fresh, we believe knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do, especially when it comes to nutrition. So now you know that bad food choices can ramp up the levels of stress within your body and thus negatively affect your mood and mental wellbeing, let’s introduce some quick tips to optimise mind and mood with small modifications to your diet. 

  • Start your day with a quality protein and fibre.

  • Protein at breakfast will provide the building blocks for the powerful, positive neurotransmitters that influence alertness and energy throughout the day. Fibre will also slow down the digestion of nutrients, preventing large peaks and troughs in energy and mood. 

  • Eat well-balanced mixed meals.

  • Avoid eating carbohydrates on their own by pairing them with quality protein, heart healthy fats and fibre rich fruits and vegetables to stabilise energy over longer periods. 

  • Eat whole foods. 

  • Processed foods result in unstable energy levels and large fluctuations in mood. They also fuel the bad bacteria in the gut and starve the good bacteria, negatively affecting gut health and the production of mood boosting neurotransmitters. 

  • Pair processed foods with fibre or protein.

  • If you do consume a processed snack such as a chocolate bar, sweets or soft drink, then limit the damage done by also consuming a piece of fruit or protein shake with it. This will help stabilise the bodies response. 

  • Stay hydrated. 

  • Simple hydration habits can benefit your mood and energy. Drinking 500 ml of water as soon as you wake up in the morning is perhaps the easiest way to improve your mood, by kick-starting the re-hydration process. 

    The link between the food you eat and your health has been clear for many years. But now we know more about how the food and fluids you consume impact your mood and mental health, making simple changes to your daily diet can help make you happier, more energised and less stressed.

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