Everyone is prone to natural highs and lows in their emotions, however, there is a surprisingly powerful influencer you can change in your day-to-day life in order to experience more positive, balanced moods: your food.
The mind-gut connection has been explored thoroughly in research studies, indicating that your gut responds to emotional signals from your brain. Although there are clinical studies to support this, it’s something we’ve all experienced from time to time. Have you ever felt upset in your stomach from nerves or anger? Or butterflies from excitement? These are perfect examples of how your mind and your gut communicate!
However, it’s not a one-way street. Just as our brain talks to our gut, the opposite occurs as well, meaning what we feed our bodies can have a significant impact on our mental wellbeing, alongside every other aspect of our health.
In the journal entry below, we further explore the gut-brain connection and highlight how different foods can affect our mental wellbeing – positively and negatively.
How foods affect our moods
Most of us are aware of the difference we feel in ourselves when we choose to eat foods that nourish our bodies, as opposed to foods filled with processed refined sugars and lacking in nutritional value. What we can tend to forget is that what we eat becomes a part of us. For example, the amino acids we consume help form the proteins that aid the development of strong immune systems and muscle growth.
Despite knowing what’s best for us, what do you tend to reach for at the end of a stressful day? We highly doubt the answer is a big bowl of vegetables. No, many of us are much more drawn to polishing off a bottle of wine or block of chocolate. These emotionally-driven eating habits provide us instant gratification but already sets us back for the next day, waking up with our bodies overloaded with sugar and caffeine. You can see how this can quickly slip into a cycle – one that many find difficult to break.
However, if we choose to nourish ourselves with foods that improve our moods, especially on difficult days, our ability to meet these challenges improves. We have more energy, are more resilient to stress, and our sleep is more restful and refreshing.
Foods that positively impact our mood
Some foods that can have a positive effect on our mood and lift our energy are from whole food sources containing magnesium, B vitamins, tryptophan and nourishing fats.
Greens such as kale, spinach, broccoli and beans are a good source of magnesium, folate and antioxidants to support the production of energy, relax our muscles, and improve brain health and function.
Bananas can help our bodies regulate dopamine production – our ‘feel-good’ hormone. The key nutrient that influences our mood is tyrosine, an amino acid that helps the production of dopamine in the brain. Bananas also contain B group vitamins and magnesium, which are essential to calm the nervous system and relax.
For our chocolate lovers reading this, this one will be music to your ears! Cacao is a rich source of the mood-boosting nutrients tryptophan and magnesium. We recommend opting for 80 percent dark or raw chocolate, as high cacao content will give your body tryptophan to support the production of serotonin and melatonin, which are essential mood and sleep hormones in the body.
Like bananas, almonds contain tyrosine. Raw almonds are an easy and nutritious snack. A source of protein, fat and fibre, this is a great option to keep you feeling satiated as this combination of nutrients slows the release of glucose into your bloodstream. If you usually reach for a coffee or a sugary snack in the afternoon for a pick-me-up, try having a glass of water and a handful of almonds instead!
Fish such as salmon, trout, tuna or mackerel are a rich source of omega-3s, which have been linked to helping the fluidity of the cell membrane in our brains and appear to play key roles in brain development and cell signalling. Studies have also shown a correlation between omega-3s and lower levels of depression.
Foods that can negatively affect our mood
You may find that you consume most – if not all – of these on a daily basis.
Enjoying a morning coffee can indeed be a very healthy ritual. Whether it be catching up with a friend, a friendly chat with your local barista, or spending some time appreciating the nuances of a well-made cuppa, it’s possible to enjoy the ritual of coffee, without the negative effect of too much caffeine.
Too much caffeine stimulates the release of adrenaline, which, if you’re already experiencing moderate to high stress levels, can amplify this anxious state of mind. Aggression, frustration and overreactions to minor occurrences are some of the potential results of an adverse reaction to too much caffeine.
Switching to herbal tea may be a better choice if you often experience unwanted side effects, or simply want to give your energy levels an extra boost in the afternoon without compromising your mental state. Teas, such as chamomile, can help you feel calm and relaxed.
Alternatively, if you’re craving coffee and still want to reap the incredible health benefits that coffee provides without breaching your limits, a low-caffeine or decaffeinated coffee is a fantastic option.
If you do drink caffeine, we recommend having your last serving before 11 am, as it can remain within your body for hours and may cause you to have difficulty getting to sleep, or staying asleep.
Although a glass of wine is a part of many people’s wind-down rituals at the end of a long day, alcohol can contribute to poor sleep quality and interfere with our ability to wake up feeling rested and refreshed. When we don’t sleep well, our energy levels suffer and as a result, our moods can tend to swing towards irritable and impatient.
Alternatively, hydrate with sparkling water with a squeeze of fresh lime, or a low-sugar Kombucha.
Found in fried foods, off-the-shelf salad dressings, cakes and muffins, trans fats can decrease our serotonin levels. They have also been linked to negatively impacting our memory and increasing inflammation in the brain, potentially preventing the production of Omega-3 fatty acids that improve brain function and mental health.
When we feel like we need sugar or caffeine to get through our day, this can be a sign our adrenals need some care. Additionally, our liver has to detoxify refined sugar substances, along with caffeine, alcohol, and any trans fats we consume, transforming them so that they can safely be excreted from our body. If the liver is overloaded with too many of these substances, or there are not enough nutrients for this detoxification process to occur, this can lead us to feel sluggish and irritable.
Commonly found in processed foods, research has revealed artificial sweeteners can alter our gut microbiota. Fewer healthy gut bacteria than normal can lead to gut-related problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and bloating, which can contribute to dips in our mood alongside general discomfort throughout the day.
At Eden, not only do we serve a carefully curated, seasonal and highly nutritious menu of delicious foods, but we also educate our guests on the relationship between what we feed our bodies and our mental and physical health. This equips them with the knowledge to make healthy and positive food choices when they return home and continue feeling the benefits gained from their time here with us.
For some inspiration to cook nourishing meals from home, click here to download our recipe ebook: A Taste of Eden, with 25 of our most-loved recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between.