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Can what we eat make an impact on our mood?

When I told my husband that we were recording an episode of the podcast What about you? about Mood foods he asked "if I eat a certain food will it make me happy?" This got me thinking, eating a plate of broccoli will not lift your spirits if you are feeling irritated or low. There are not specific foods that will give you an instantaneous lift. Research has shown that an overall balanced diet can however impact this and this combined with certain nutrients will have a cumulative effect.

It is important to remember though, that we are all individuals and we all respond to foods in different ways. If you feel certain foods may not agree with you, or you function better eating specific foods you should listen to your body. A qualified nutritional therapist can help you investigate this. Food allergies and sensitivities could also be a factor that you could discuss with a health professional.

Felice Jacka lead the SMILEs trial (a randomised control trial) which supports the modification of lifestyle in lowered emotional states. This study looked at two groups, one group had a modified diet (Mediterranean diet) and the other a control group with social support. At the end of the trial, one third of the diet group met criteria for remission of depression compared to 8% of the support group. To read more about the trial click here,

Some nutrients that are important to include in our diet (alongside a balanced diet)

  • Omega 3 fatty acids - This is an essential fat that we have to get through food. Omega 3 fatty acids are important to boost brain power, stabilise mood, balance hormones and reduce inflammation in our bodies. The best sources are from oily fish such as salmon, anchovies, herring, mackerel and sardines. We can also get it from plant sources such as flaxseed but this is not a direct source of EPA/DHA and our body converts it if we have the co-factors to do so. A good source of EPA/DHA for vegans is from an algae source.

  • B vitamins - These water soluble vitamins support relaxation, cognition and neurological health. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli , fish, lamb, turkey and beef are all high in b vitamins.

  • Vitamin D - Vitamin D receptors in the brain have been shown to stimulate serontonin production and vitamin D has also shown to increase endorphin levels. The best source of vitamin D in sunlight on our skin.

What we eat and drink may have a negative effect on how we feel.

  • Refined sugar - when we low in energy and mood we quite often reach for or crave sugary or simple carbohydrate foods (white bread, white pasta etc) to give us a boost. This initial boost ultimately results in a drop of our blood sugar levels, we then feel weak, hungry and crave these foods again. This is a cycle that leads to energy slumps during the day, craving foods (especially after meals) and it is a hard cycle to break. I quite often have clients say to me, "I know I need to stop eating.... but I find it so hard". This then leads to feelings of guilt, poor control and low self esteem as they blame themselves.

  • Stimulant such as caffeine and alcohol - caffeine can impact our nervous system and may also deplete nutrients that are important to support our nervous systems, such as vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc. Stimulants can alter brain chemistry and behaviour and may have an impact on sleep and gut function also (important to consider with the gut-brain connection link).

Balance is important. I do not advocate restrictive diets and this is especially important when it comes to our mental and emotional health. If you would like to listen to the episode of the podcast that we recorded about this topic you can find it on Spotify and Apple Podcast or here on Soundcloud -

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