FOOD & MOOD

Updated: Nov 27, 2019



What's interesting is that for many years, I did not fully acknowledge the connection between my mood and the food I was consuming.


Throughout my years in university, I constantly experienced brain fog, tiredness and just constant mood swings. I thought that was just me, my personality, just who I am. However, reflecting back on my diet during that time - I was deprived of good-quality nutrition. I’d often skip breakfast. Lecture snacking consisted of chocolates, cupcakes and crisps. Lunch food were burgers, chips and unfulfilled sandwiches. And of course, somewhere in between there was the sugar filled syrups in my coffee. Thankfully, I had mama’s home cooked dinner to come back home to, what a blessing!


Fast forward years later, I am on a journey that is helping me become more aware and helping me understand how my mood can easily get affected by food. I understand that daily bad food choices can affect blood sugar fluctuations, nutritional imbalances, and without a steady source of fuel from the foods I eat, my mind and body won’t function optimally.


This article will discuss a few tips to optimise our mood through nutrition.


Nutrition provides the building blocks and the fuel for our brain, as well as our body. Our mental wellbeing is very complex and it depends on many factors such as toxic burden, sleep, nutrients, gut health, inflammation, trauma, or exposure to microorganisms and radiation. These aspects influence our physiology, which is also affected by genetics and an individual’s attitude and beliefs.


The key insight is that your brain is an organ that’s connected to everything else happening in our body.


Optimising our brain starts with optimising our body first.

1. Balancing blood glucose levels


Balancing blood glucose levels prevents the development of hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose) and/or insulin resistance (and conversely to increase insulin sensitivity), which are central to improving mood. Hypoglycaemia can cause feelings of anxiety and confusion. High blood glucose, on the other hand, can cause fatigue and low moods (1).


Ways to balance blood glucose levels:

  • Consume a protein source with every meal and snack. This helps normalise insulin secretion and reduces cravings (2,3).

  • Minimise the consumption of refined carbohydrates, such as pastries, breads, pastas, chocolates, sugary drinks and sweets to minimise dips and spikes in blood glucose levels.

  • Consume complex carbohydrates such as whole grains (e.g. brown rice, oats, quinoa and sweet potatoes), beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables, which help stabilise blood glucose levels since they are high in fibre and are nutrient dense.

  • Exercise to increase insulin sensitivity by acting directly on muscle metabolism and by assisting in weight management (4, 5, 6)

  • Get adequate sleep. Poor sleeping habits and a lack of rest affect blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity. They can increase appetite and promote weight gain (7)

  • Control stress levels as chronic stress is linked to a greater risk of insulin resistance (8).

  • Sprinkle some cinnamon on foods as it may have the ability to reduce blood glucose levels and increase insulin sensitivity (9).

Check out this article here for more in depth information about blood glucose levels.


2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids


Adequate healthy dietary fats (more importantly, omega-3) are important for our brain health. Omega 3 reduces inflammation as it down regulates the inflammatory response in the body and in the brain, which can be a key driver to poor mental wellbeing (11).


It also plays an important role in supporting cell membrane health, which is essential for optimal cell signalling in the brain (10). In order for neurotransmitters to communicate properly with cells, their membranes need to be receptive and ready to receive and transmit signals.


A good rule of thumb is to get 3 portions of oily fish in your diet on a weekly basis.


Rich omega 3 sources can include:

  • Wild salmon

  • Mackerel

  • Anchovies

  • Sardines

  • Herring

If eating fish isn’t an option, there are many plant-based sources of omega 3 such as:

  • Chia seeds

  • Flaxseeds

  • Walnuts

  • Hemp seeds

Aim to have a serving of any of these on a daily basis to make sure you’re getting optimal amounts of omega 3.


3. Optimising gut health


Our gut has a complex network of nerves in it that communicate directly with our brain. A number of studies have shown that people with various mental health issues have different species of bacteria in their guts, compared to healthy people. This suggests that the gut microbiome may affect brain health (16 - 18).


Friendly bacteria in the gut plays an important role in protecting the tissue in our gut that contains these nerves, which have a direct impact on brain activity. Maintaining balance between friendly and pathogenic bacteria is essential for overall health, as well as mental health. A good way of keeping the not-so-friendly bugs at bay is by integrating prebiotics and probiotics into your diet frequently. Prebiotics and probiotics are essential to gut health and mental health.


Prebiotics are carbohydrates that humans cannot digest, but bacteria in our guts can. Examples of prebiotics include:

  • Garlic

  • Onions

  • Leeks

  • Asparagus

  • Banana

  • Flaxseeds

  • Oats

Several studies show evidence for reduced feelings of anxiety and improved aspects of well-being after taking probiotics (12 -14). Probiotic-rich food include fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir, which all contain healthy bacteria, mainly Lactobacilli. They can also reduce the amount of disease-causing species in the gut.


4. Antioxidants


Antioxidants help by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress as those are the key factors that can contribute to cognitive decline.


Berries, for example, have been shown to have strong antioxidant capacity, as it improves communication between brain cells, and increases plasticity which helps brain cells form new connections, boosting learning and memory (19).


Vitamin E has also been implicated in cognitive performance, as low blood levels of vitamin E were associated with poor memory performance in older individuals (20). Vitamin E is abundant in nuts, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals, and has been shown to reduce inflammation and delaying age-related neurodegenerative diseases (20,21).


Antioxidant rich foods include: berries, grapes, curcumin (turmeric), dark chocolate, green tea, carrots, pumpkins, nuts and seeds.


Aside from nutrition, mental wellbeing is really dependent on many other factors, such as lifestyle, sleep, exercise and genetics, so it’s important to take all of these into consideration on your journey to improving mood and mental wellbeing.



References:


1) Penckofer, S., Quinn, L., Byrn, M., Ferrans, C., Miller, M., & Strange, P. (2012). Does glycemic variability impact mood and quality of life?. Diabetes technology & therapeutics, 14(4), 303–310. doi:10.1089/dia.2011.0191


2) Mary C. Gannon and Frank Q. Nuttall. (2004). Effect of a High-Protein, Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Blood Glucose Control in People With Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes. 53(9): 2375-2382.


3) Gannon MC, Nuttall FQ, Saeed A, Jordan K, Hoover H. An increase in dietary protein improves the blood glucose response in persons with type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 78(4):734-41.


4) Dâmaso AR et al. (2014). Aerobic plus resistance training was more effective in improving the visceral adiposity, metabolic profile and inflammatory markers than aerobic training in obese adolescents. J Sports Sci. 32(15):1435-45.


5) Suh, S., Jeong, I. K et al . (2011). Effects of resistance training and aerobic exercise on insulin sensitivity in overweight korean adolescents: a controlled randomized trial. Diabetes & metabolism journal, 35(4), 418–426.


6) Abou Assi H et al. (2015). The effects of aerobic, resistance, and combination training on insulin sensitivity and secretion in overweight adults from STRRIDE AT/RT: a randomized trial. J Appl Physiol. 15;118(12):1474-82.


7) Tasali E, Leproult R, Ehrmann DA, Van Cauter E. (2008). Slow-wave sleep and the risk of type 2 diabetes in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 22;105(3):1044-9.


8) Li L1, Li X, Zhou W, Messina JL. (2013). Acute psychological stress results in the rapid development of insulin resistance. J Endocrinol. 15;217(2):175-84.


9) Medagama A. B. (2015). The glycaemic outcomes of Cinnamon, a review of the experimental evidence and clinical trials. Nutrition journal, 14, 108.


10) Dyall S. C. (2015). Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 7, 52.


11) Wall R, Ross RP, Fitzgerald GF, Stanton C. (2010). Fatty acids from fish: the anti-inflammatory potential of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Nutr Rev. 68(5):280-9.


12) Messaoudi M1, Lalonde R, Violle N, Javelot H et al. (2011). Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in rats and human subjects. Br J Nutr. 2011 Mar;105(5):755-64.


13) Tillisch, K., Labus, J., Kilpatrick, L., Jiang, Z., Stains, J., Ebrat, B., … Mayer, E. A. (2013). Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity. Gastroenterology, 144(7), 1394–1401.e14014.


14) Rao AV1, Bested AC, Beaulne TM, Katzman MA et al. (2009). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of a probiotic in emotional symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. Gut Pathog. 19;1(1):6.


15) Zhao Y et al (2015) – Microbial sources of amyloid and relevance to amyloidogenesis and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). J Alzheimer’s Dis Parkinsonism, 5, 1, 177


16) Rogers, G. B., Keating, D. J., Young, R. L., Wong, M. L., Licinio, J., & Wesselingh, S. (2016). From gut dysbiosis to altered brain function and mental illness: mechanisms and pathways. Molecular psychiatry, 21(6), 738–748. doi:10.1038/mp.2016.50


17) Jiang H, Ling Z, Zhang Y, Mao H, Ma Z et al. (2015). Altered fecal microbiota composition in patients with major depressive disorder. Brain Behav Immun. 48:186-94.


18) Cryan JF1, Dinan TG. (2012). Mind-altering microorganisms: the impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behaviour. Nat Rev Neurosci. 13(10):701-12.


19) Casadesus G, Shukitt-Hale B, Stellwagen HM, Zhu X, Lee HG, Smith MA, Joseph JA. (2004). Modulation of hippocampal plasticity and cognitive behavior by short-term blueberry supplementation in aged rats. Nutr Neurosci. 7(5-6):309-16.


20) Perkins AJ, et al. Association of antioxidants with memory in a multiethnic elderly sample using the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Am J Epidemiol. 1999;150:37–44.


21) Navarro A, Gómez C, Sánchez-Pino MJ, González H, Bández MJ, Boveris AD, Boveris A. (2005). Vitamin E at high doses improves survival, neurological performance, and brain mitochondrial function in aging male mice. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 289(5):R1392-9

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