How your diet affects your mood

UT Health

Most of us are aware that certain foods can affect our mood, right? You have that slice of cake for lunch that you have been craving since you woke up. Immediately following it you feel great and full of energy and then the next thing you know your colleague is scraping your face off your keyboard because you have been asleep for the last 20 minutes! This has been caused by a sugar high and then the resulting sugar low and we have all experienced this. So, how else can our diet affect how we feel?

Eat regularly and don’t skip meals – ensure you eat a balanced breakfast to stop your blood sugar levels falling too low. This can lead to you feeling tired and irritable later in the day. If you feel like this at lunch time you may make bad food choices and over-eat.

Choose foods that keep your blood sugar levels stable by releasing energy slowly such as pasta, rice, oats, wholegrain alternatives, nuts and seeds. Avoid foods that will cause rapid spikes and falls in your blood sugar levels such as sweets, biscuits and sugary drinks. Another good way to avoid these spikes and falls is to avoid eating large meals at lunch and dinner and instead space your calories out in to smaller meals spread throughout the day.

Stay hydrated – not drinking enough levels of fluid can lead to difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly. Current guidelines recommend 6-8 glasses of water per day, which is roughly 2-3 litres. All fluids count but water is the best option as it will contain no sugar or caffeine.

Be careful with the levels of caffeine in your diet. Remember that it’s not just coffee that contains caffeine, it is also found in tea and energy drinks. It can provide you with an initial high, but this will be followed by a lull where you can feel anxious or depressed. In addition to this, it is widely known that caffeine can also affect your sleeping pattern. Try substituting coffee and tea for the decaffeinated versions.

Gut health – how you are feeling can be reflected in your gut – if you are feeling stressed or worried and have a lot of things on your mind, your digestive system can be slowed down or can potentially speed up. A healthy gut will require adequate levels of water, exercise and foods high in fibre. Foods to eat that your gut will like you for are fruit and vegetables, beans and pulses, yoghurts and probiotics.

Vitamins, minerals, fibre – generally speaking, eating a wide range of different coloured fruits and vegetables each day will mean you are getting a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals. There is research to suggest that certain vitamins may help you to feel more upbeat. Vitamin D is one of these and is a common deficiency as the best source is exposure to sunlight. However, certain foods contain vitamin D such as oily fish (salmon, mackerel etc) and egg yolks. Likewise, vitamin B12 and folate (B9) have been linked to helping to fight depression. Foods rich in vitamin B12 are cottage cheese, lean beef and salmon. Folate can be found in dark leafy greens, broccoli and oranges.

Fibre is also vital for your health and there are certain foods that slow the absorption of sugar in to the bloodstream, as we detailed above. These are known as complex carbohydrates and they contain soluble fibre that also increases levels of serotonin, which is a chemical linked to feeling good. This is a powerful combination as they work together to reduce mood swings. In addition to the foods that we have already looked at, peas and brussel sprouts are also examples of foods high in fibre.

Eat protein and the right fats – protein has certain properties, which help the body to improve mood and regulate the way you are feeling. In addition to this it will also keep you feeling full for longer and is therefore a great way to avoid overeating. Examples of foods high in protein are meat, fish, eggs, beans and nuts. Further vegetarian alternatives are tofu and soya products.

Not all fats are bad. The fats Omega 3 and 6 are essential for brain function and should be included in the diet. Examples are oily fish, nuts, olive oil, seeds, avocados, and dairy products. The type of fats to avoid are found in cakes and biscuits, which may leave you feeling good for a very short while but will have a detrimental effect on your mood and health long term.  

As we can see, what you eat and drink every day can have a huge impact on the way you feel and function. We hope you can use this information to help plan what you are going to consume and when you are going to consume it. Following a healthy, balanced diet in combination with adequate exercise should help you to look and feel great!

Alex Broadbent
UT Health