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Food & Your Mood: Eating For A Healthy Headspace

What you eat has a direct effect on your mood. Have you ever felt a rush of happiness from eating a piece of chocolate cake, or the horrible bloated feeling after eating too much fast food?

Author:Daniel James
Reviewer:Karan Emery
May 15, 2024
What you eat has a direct effect on your mood. Have you ever felt a rush of happiness from eating a piece of chocolate cake, or the horrible bloated feeling after eating too much fast food? While it's tempting to comfort eat when we're feeling down or stressed, it often has the opposite effect, intensifying negative feelings.
There are foods that can boost your mood, revealing the powerful connection between your diet and emotional well-being. This understanding of mental and dietary health is essential for those looking to specialize through a BSN to PMHNP.
The connection between the gut and the brain is called the gut-brain axis. It creates a vital link between the two with the health of one having a direct impact on the other.
They are connected physically by millions of nerves, notably the Vagus nerve, which send signals in both directions.
They are also connected through chemicals called neurotransmitters which are chemical messengers that control mood regulation. About 90% of serotonin - the happiness hormone which controls pain, sleep patterns and mood - is produced in the gut.
The gut is home to billions of microbes that affect brain function. It also helps regulate immunity. Imbalances in gut bacteria can trigger inflammation which is linked to various mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.

Mood-Boosting Foods For a Healthy Headspace

The saying ‘you are what you eat’ takes on a whole new meaning when you understand the connection between gut health and brain function. By choosing a diet rich in mood-boosting foods, you equip your body with the tools it needs for overall health and happiness.
  • B Vitamins - Found in sunflower seeds, almonds, and leafy greens, these vitamins enhance mood and brain health.
  • Vitamin C - Found in citrus fruits and broccoli, this vitamin supports the immune system and helps reduce inflammation.
  • Vitamin D - Found in fish, cheese, and eggs, it helps to maintain nerve health.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids - These are found in oily fish and are essential for brain health and reducing inflammation.
  • Magnesium - Found in nuts, beans, and various fruits, it helps the nervous system function correctly.
  • Zinc - Found in shellfish and legumes, it has antioxidant properties and helps support the immune system.

Probiotics and Mental Health

Studies have found that probiotics may help boost mood, and cognitive function, and reduce stress and anxiety. These beneficial bacteria support gut health by aiding digestion by helping to move food through the gut. They are particularly effective in managing conditions such as:
  • IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
  • IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease)
  • Diarrhea, whether caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or antibiotics.
You can find probiotics in many foodsor they can be taken as supplements. Although yogurt is the most common source, they can also be found in:
  • Dairy products like buttermilk, certain soft cheeses, fermented milk, and kefir.
  • Soy-based drinks and products such as miso and tempeh.
  • Fermented vegetables like kimchi, sauerkraut, and various pickles.

Plant-Based Diets and Mental Wellbeing

Plant-based foodsare rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals, substances that help repair brain cell damage and reduce inflammation. These foods also play a crucial role in balancing neurotransmitters, which are essential for regulating mood.
Many people who suffer from depression have high levels of an enzyme known as monoamine oxidase (MAO). This enzyme breaks down serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine—key neurotransmitters in mood regulation.
Quercetin, a phytochemical found exclusively in plant-based foods, prevents MAO's activity, working much like a natural antidepressant. Foods rich in quercetin include apples, kale, berries, grapes, onions, and green tea.

Avoiding Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Reduced Stress

Eating inflammatory foods can hinder the gut’s ability to absorb essential nutrients, resulting in deficiencies in B vitamins and magnesium which are important for mood regulation. Inflammation in the gut can also cause:
  • Disruption of Neurotransmitter Production - These disturbances in the production and function of serotonin may lead to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
  • Immune System Response - When the gut is inflamed, it activates the immune system, which can release chemicals that may change your mood and increase feelings of depression.
  • Microbiome Alterations - The gut contains trillions of helpful microorganisms and if inflammation throws them off balance, it can negatively affect your mood.
  • Stress Hormone Fluctuations - Persistent gut inflammation can lead to higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol, which can make you feel more stressed and anxious.
The following foods can cause inflammationand should be avoided or limited to optimise emotional well-being:
  • High Sugar and High Fat Foods - Consuming high amounts of sugar and unhealthy fats found in processed foods, can also lead to mood swings.
  • Red and Processed Meats - Foods like steak, hamburgers, bacon, and sausages.
  • Commercial Baked Goods - Snacks, cakes, pies, cookies, and brownies are not only high in unhealthy fats and sugars but also contribute to poor mood health.
  • White Flour Products - Bread and pasta made from white flour lack nutritional benefits and can adversely affect your mood.
  • Deep-Fried Foods - French fries, fried chicken, and donuts are bad for emotional health due to their high fat content.
  • Sugary Treats - Foods and drinks high in added sugars, such as candy, jelly, syrup, and soda, can cause fluctuations in mood.
  • Trans Fats - Avoid trans fats found in products like margarine, microwave popcorn, refrigerated doughs, and nondairy creamers as they can provoke inflammation.

The Benefits of Regular Eating Patterns

The way we eat is just as important as what we eat for improving gut health. Here are some habits that enhance the gut-brain connection and help it to function optimally:
  • Mindful Eating - Allows you to recognize when you feel hungry or full, preventing overeating, and reducing stress, which improves digestion.
  • Regular Meal Times - Eating at the same time each day helps regulate your internal clock and stabilises your mood by maintaining steady blood sugar levels.
  • Adequate Hydration - Proper hydration is essential for digestion, nutrient absorption, and ridding the body of waste products, reducing gut inflammation and boosting mental health.
  • Limit Distractions - Avoid eating while watching TV or using your phone as it promotes mindless eating. Eating without distractions helps you tune into your body's needs and the effects of different foods on your mood and digestion.
  • Regular Physical Activity - Exercise releases endorphins and regulates cortisol, benefiting your mood, and reducing inflammation.
  • Prioritize Sleep - Good sleep is vital for brain and digestive health. Consistent, quality sleep helps prevent mood disturbances.
  • Reduce Stress - Meditation, yoga, or deep breathing reduce stress, curb the production of harmful hormones, and protect gut health and mood.
  • Social Meals - Eating with others can alleviate loneliness and stress, enhancing mood. It also encourages eating more slowly, which is better for digestion.
The gut-brain connection highlights how our diet impacts not just our physical health but also our emotional and mental wellbeing. A balanced diet rich in fiber, probiotics, and whole foods supports this link, promoting both digestive health and emotional stability.
While no single "superfood" can provide all the benefits, eating healthily is essential for optimal brain health and mood regulation. Consistent and mindful eating habits, are strategies that can help create a healthy headspace.
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Daniel James

Daniel James

Daniel James is a distinguished gerontologist, author, and professional coach known for his expertise in health and aging. With degrees from Georgia Tech and UCLA, including a diploma in gerontology from the University of Boston, Daniel brings over 15 years of experience to his work. His credentials also include a Professional Coaching Certification, enhancing his credibility in personal development and well-being. In his free time, Daniel is an avid runner and tennis player, passionate about fitness, wellness, and staying active. His commitment to improving lives through health education and coaching reflects his passion and dedication in both professional and personal endeavors.
Karan Emery

Karan Emery

Karan Emery, an accomplished researcher and leader in health sciences, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals, brings over two decades of experience to the table. Holding a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Stanford University, Karan's credentials underscore her authority in the field. With a track record of groundbreaking research and numerous peer-reviewed publications in prestigious journals, Karan's expertise is widely recognized in the scientific community. Her writing style is characterized by its clarity and meticulous attention to detail, making complex scientific concepts accessible to a broad audience. Apart from her professional endeavors, Karan enjoys cooking, learning about different cultures and languages, watching documentaries, and visiting historical landmarks. Committed to advancing knowledge and improving health outcomes, Karan Emery continues to make significant contributions to the fields of health, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals.
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