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Improving Your Mood With Food

Yvette Cabrera, Librarian, International Languages Department,
Illustration of person with eyes close and hands out in a connected mind and body posture

Your brain is working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to keep your body functioning. It also contributes to our mental health by informing the body to release hormones that regulate our moods. Yet, we hardly ever think about how the food we eat affects our brains and our emotions. Eating a healthy diet is not only to keep you fit but also important to help us keep our emotions in check and our mental health in balance.

"Your brain is like a very technologically advanced, very expensive car. It requires the best fuel to run at its optimal level and needs to be refueled regularly. When we do not give our body nutritious foods that are loaded with all the nutrients the brain needs to function, we don’t feel well mentally or physically," states Dr. Desmonette Hazly, integrative health specialist. Our body and brain respond the same way a car does when you put less than premium fuel in its tank; nothing runs well or smoothly.

Our mood is not only regulated by our brain, but our gut also contributes to the modulation of our emotions. Dr. Hazly emphasizes that "the microbiome of our gut contributes to our mental health. It is estimated that the majority of serotonin that our body makes is produced in our gastrointestinal tract. The "good bacteria," which thrives on healthy foods, is hard at work making serotonin, which is one of the hormones that reduce feelings of depression and helps us sleep. Our gut health is ultimately connected to our mental health."

We have all heard about how foods high in processed sugar, sodium, and fat can cause illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. But these same foods also cause inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain and destroy the “good bacteria” in the gut that protects the body from toxins and produce hormones necessary to regulate our emotions.

Dr. Hazly has a few tips to improve your diet to manage your moods:

  • Always check with your physician before you make changes to your diet to address a mental or physical health condition.
  • Eat regularly. This can stop your blood sugar level from dropping, which can make you feel tired and bad-tempered.
  • Stay hydrated. Even mild dehydration can affect your mood, energy level, and ability to concentrate.
  • Eat the right balance of fats. Your brain needs healthy fats to keep working well. They’re found in things such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocados, milk, and eggs. Avoid trans fats—often found in processed or packaged foods—as they can be bad for your mood and your heart health.
  • Include more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your diet. They contain the vitamins and minerals your brain and body need to stay well.
  • Include some protein with every meal. It contains an amino acid that your brain uses to help regulate your mood.
  • Look after your gut health. Your gut can reflect how you’re feeling: it can speed up or slow down if you're stressed. Healthy food for your gut includes fruit, vegetables, beans, and probiotics.
  • Be aware of how caffeine can affect your mood. It can cause sleep problems, especially if you drink it close to bedtime, and some people find it makes them irritable and anxious too. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks, and chocolate.

Suggested Reading

Book cover of The psychobiotic revolution : mood, food, and the new science of the gut-brain connection
The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food, and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection
Anderson, Scott C

Book cover of The healthy mind cookbook : big-flavor recipes to enhance brain function, mood, memory, and mental c
The Healthy Mind Cookbook
Katz, Rebecca

Book cover of Your brain on plants : improve the way you think and feel with safe--and proven--medicinal plants an
Your Brain on Plants: Improve the Way You Think and Feel
Perry, Nicolette

Book cover of Omega balance : nutritional power for a happier, healthier life
Omega Balance: Nutritional Power for a Happier, Healthier Life
Hulbert, A. J.

Book cover of Eat & flourish : how food supports emotional well-being
Eat & Flourish: How Food Supports Emotional Well-Being
Albright, Mary Beth