Good nutrition is the foundation of a healthy and happy life. As women, we often face unique challenges when it comes to our health - mental as well as physical. Ever noticed how a balanced meal can leave you feeling energised and upbeat, whilst something more heavy leaves you feeling sluggish and irritable? What we eat has a direct impact on our brain chemistry and hormones, which can influence our mood and emotions in powerful ways. FS expert nutritionist Harriet Well is breaking down the science behind how nutrition affects our mood, plus a few practical tips for using food as a tool for emotional wellness. Whether you struggle with mood swings, anxiety, or depression, good nutrition can play a powerful role in helping you feel your best, so it’s time to nourish your body and mind…
Nutrition and mood
Nutrition and mood are intricately connected. While it is easy to see how food affects our physical health, its impact on our mental health is often overlooked. However, the link between the two is undeniable. Our diet affects our brain chemistry and can play a role in determining our mood and emotional state. Here’s everything you need to know about nutrition and mood, and how we can make dietary changes to improve our mental health.
The gut-brain connection
To understand the relationship between nutrition and mood, we need to first understand the gut-brain connection. Our gut and brain are connected by the vagus nerve, which allows them to communicate with each other. The gut is home to trillions of bacteria that play a crucial role in maintaining our overall health, including our mental health. The gut microbiome produces neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, which are essential for regulating mood, sleep, and anxiety.
Nutrients that affect mood
Certain nutrients have been shown to have a significant impact on mood. These include:
Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts. These fatty acids have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
B vitamins: B vitamins are essential for the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine (our happy feel good hormones). Deficiencies in B vitamins have been linked to depression and anxiety. Foods rich in B vitamins include leafy greens, whole grains, and legumes.
Magnesium: Magnesium plays a crucial role in regulating mood and anxiety. Low magnesium levels have been linked to depression and anxiety. Foods rich in magnesium include dark chocolate, almonds, spinach, and avocado.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression and other mood disorders. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, but it can also be found in fatty fish, eggs, and fortified foods such as milk and cereal. Additional supplementation is recommended in the UK between the months of October and April.
Probiotics: Probiotics are live bacteria that are beneficial to our gut health. Studies have shown that probiotics can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, and sauerkraut.
How to support your gut health
The single best thing you can do for your overall gut health and therefore support your mental health and mood is to eat a diet full of variety, including a wide range of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds each week. I diet higher in refined sugars, carbohydrates and saturated fats do not cultivate a healthy gut bacteria and digestion. A diet higher in these types of foods can cause more inflammation in the body, blood sugar fluctuations and nutritional imbalances that can negatively impact your mood and mental functioning, therefore being mindful of these foods and eating them in moderation is key for good gut health.
All in all, the correlation between nutrition and mood is clear. A healthy diet that is rich in whole foods and nutrients can have a positive impact on our mental health. On the other hand, without a steady source of quality fuel from the foods we eat, our mind and bodies don't function as well as they could and can negatively impact our mood.
Special thanks to our resident nutritionist Harriet, for her knowledge, expertise and breaking down everything you need to know.
Written by Harriet Lidgard
Nutritionist (BSc) & Health Coach