Mood for food or food for mood?
It’s long been recommended that we should eat a balanced, healthy diet to aid our physical health. However, more recently, the effect of the food we eat on our mental health has become worthy of consideration.
Mood for food
We’ve probably all reached for the biscuit tin or eyed the confectionery shelves beside the supermarket checkout thinking we deserve a treat before, during, or after a stressful day. And this is where the mood for food element creeps in.
If we choose that sugary snack as our treat, does it effect our mood hours or even days later? Research has shown that a diet high in refined sugar, processed foods, artificial sweeteners and chemicals can have a major effect on our mental health.
Although we may experience a burst of energy following our treat, the effect will be short lived and the guilt we may then feel for eating something we know was not good for us can cause a drop in our mood. This can then potentially start a vicious circle – low mood, sugary treat, guilt, low mood etc.
Food for mood
Conversely, a diet which includes a wide variety of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grain cereals, oily fish, lean meat and low-fat dairy has been linked to a reduction in mood swings, depression and anxiety. This is thought to be down to the nutrients provided by these foods help the brain produce serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated, amongst other things, with mood, emotions and anxiety.
The amino acid tryptophan is essential in the body and has various important purposes including the creation of niacin which helps synthesise serotonin. The body cannot produce tryptophan, so it has to be obtained from the diet.
Eating foods high in tryptophan is therefore believed to help our bodies create serotonin, increased production of which may result in an improvement of our mood. Such foods include nuts (almonds, pistachio, walnuts), pumpkin seeds, oats and bran, kidney beans, lentils, avocados, tuna and white meat.
So when we’re told to snack on nuts rather than biscuits, the reason isn’t only for our physical health, our mental health may benefit too.