Written by Erika Martin BSc Nutrition Candidate
Reviewed by Andrea Miller MHSc, RD
Have you ever considered how food affects your mood? Most people associate the food they eat with how it makes them feel physically. For example, it is easy to notice that eating a few too many pizza slices may leave you feeling full or bloated, or that having dairy when you lactose intolerant will likely lead you right to the bathroom. What might not be so clear to see, is that what we eat may also affect our mood and the way we feel mentally. This means that by being more mindful of eating healthy and meeting our nutrient requirements, it is possible to stay more energized, enhance our mood and ultimately feel better.
How does what you eat affect your mood?
Just as much as food fuels our body, it also fuels our brain. That said, the types of food we eat can affect our brain function, which can change the way we think and feel, affecting our mood, overall. Essentially, the ideal foods for our brain are those high in nutrients including, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Eating foods that are highly processed, high in sugars or low in nutrients does not contribute to brain health and function and may change the chemical and physiological makeup of our brain. These changes can alter our mood and leave us feeling sluggish.
How to boost your mood with food
The first step to using food and nutrition to improve your overall mood is to pay attention to how certain foods make you feel, especially shortly after eating them. For example, eating a sugary snack may be exciting and energizing for a little while, but the crash you feel after the energy spike from the sugar tends to make us feel low. By avoiding foods that have this effect, such as those foods that are high in sugar, or are highly processed, we can eliminate this lethargic feeling and over time feel more energized and happier more of the time.
It is also important to eat at regular intervals throughout the day; snacking on healthy foods every few hours. This keeps blood sugar levels steady, reducing the blood sugar spikes that end in a crash. Snacks like hummus and carrots, apple slices with peanut butter or a few nuts and berries are the perfect, nutrient-filled, brain food to get you through the day.
Eating nutrient-dense foods is the best way to feel energized more of the time. This means we need to include fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products and whole grains on a daily basis.
As for foods that we should enjoy in moderation; consider chips, candies, and fried foods. Also consider limiting fruit juices, white breads and pastas, granola bars and cereals with high sugar content (anything more than 9 g sugar per serving) and sweetened yogurts.
Foods for your mood
Protein helps you to feel full longer, as well as building and repairing cells. Protein also helps increase the production of norepinephrine and dopamine, two hormones that make you feel happier and boost your mood. Some good choices for protein include chicken, turkey, salmon, tofu, eggs, Greek yogurt and lentils.
Fiber helps to regulate the digestive system which can ultimately affect our mood. Fibre slows the absorption of sugar from the digestive tract, into the bloodstream, it also increases production of serotonin. This is a hormone that keeps our mood balanced, so regular consumption of fibrous foods can help reduce mood swings. Choose: whole grain products, fruits, vegetables and dried beans and lentils.
While all vitamins are important for overall health, some vitamins can be beneficial in improving our mood. Vitamin D, for example, is very important for our mood. Most adults, in Canada cannot get adequate Vitamin D through food or sun exposure. Nutrition guidelines encourage all adults to take at least 400IU Vitamin D3, in supplement form, daily. Talk to your doctor or registered dietitian, before starting any vitamin supplement, to ensure you are taking the right dose for you.
Folate and Vitamin B12 have been known to boost our mood, and can be found in dark leafy greens, oranges, oatmeal (folate), and lean beef or salmon (B12). Vegans may benefit from taking a supplement as their source for B12. Again, speak to your doctor or registered dietitian, before starting any vitamin supplement, to ensure you are taking the right dose for you.
The bottom line
To boost your mood, eat at regular intervals throughout the day; avoid skipping meals, or going long periods of time without food. Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables, daily. Choose whole grains, lean sources of protein, including fish, nuts, dried beans and legumes, daily. Stay well hydrated, get adequate sleep and be active in a way that suits your body and your health.