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Your Mood and Food

Your Mood and Food

Stress eating - we all do it! Whether salty or sweet, we tend to reach for something indulgent when we’re stressed, sad, or bored as a sense of comfort or relief. But what you eat doesn’t just impact your physical health, it also influences your mental health.

The relationship between diet and mental health is complex but has gained considerable interest in recent years. Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health concerns worldwide, and an emerging field of research known as nutritional psychiatry looks at how nutrition affects mood and mental health.

Diets that consist of mostly processed foods including fast food, sugar and soft drinks are linked to higher incidents of ADHD, mood swings and depression. On the other hand, a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and omega-3 fatty acids, along with moderate amounts of poultry, eggs and dairy can mean less inflammatory effects on the body and a reduced risk of depression and anxiety.

So how does it work exactly? Whole, nutrient-rich foods like sweet potatoes, beans, leafy greens and whole grains help to release serotonin, a feel-good chemical in the brain that helps regulate sleep, mood and inhibit pain. Proteins like fish, turkey, chicken, tofu, beans, eggs and unsweetened yogurt have been linked to higher levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are chemicals in the brain that help to regulate mood, motivation and concentration.

Our diets activate neural pathways in the brain that travel between the brain and our gastrointestinal tract. Ninety-five percent of the serotonin in our body is produced in the gastrointestinal tract by the gut bacteria, and the gastrointestinal tract is lined with millions of nerve cells, or neurons. These nerve cells help the body digest food, regulate basic physiological processes, guides our memory, emotions, learning and mood.

Diets high in refined carbohydrates like flour-based foods (breads, crackers and breakfast cereals) and sugar-sweetened beverages and snacks (soda, baked goods and cookies) lack vitamins and nutrients the body needs and increase blood glucose and insulin levels, which can lead to a higher risk of obesity and diabetes. In turn, obesity and diabetes are linked to a higher incidence of depression. Refined carbs are also linked to higher levels of inflammation that are known to have detrimental effects on brain health, mood disorders and depression.

Over time, diets void of nutrients can lead to nutritional deficiencies that leave you feeling mentally drained with low energy levels. There are many factors that contribute to mental health disorders including family history and substance use disorders but understanding how the food you eat affects your mood and brain health can have positive effects on your overall wellness.