Do you feel like your moods, anxiety and stress are impacting your life? Anxiety, low mood and stress can make life feel like an uphill battle. These feelings can drain you of energy and motivation, making your day-to-day life harder to handle. When you are not balanced and grounded life’s challenges can seem impossible to overcome, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and defeated.
While it’s normal to occasionally feel down and have a moderate amount of stress and worry, persistent anxiety, stress and sadness are a sign that something needs to change. The positive news is that introducing simple, healthy dietary habits can improve your mood. Although change can be difficult when you are not feeling great, your journey to better moods starts with good food. Research shows that individuals who regularly consume high amounts of healthy, wholefoods are less likely to experience low moods and anxiety. Certain foods are packed with the nutrients specifically required for healthy nervous system function. Likewise, there are also certain foods that trigger anxiety and low mood.
To start feeling brighter you should aim to eat 3 main meals daily and avoid skipping meals. One or two wholesome snacks per day is ideal. Each main meal should include a palm sized source of protein. Good sources of protein include eggs, fish, chicken, seeds, nuts, quinoa, legumes and lentils. Nutrients supportive of healthy nervous system function include the omega-3 fatty acids or “healthy fats” (in oily fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia), zinc (in fish, nuts and seeds again!), magnesium (in green leafy vegetables, legumes, figs, avocado, cacao, fish and nuts and seeds…again!), B vitamins (in brown rice, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, lentils, dark-leafy vegetables, fruit…and you guessed it… nuts and seeds!). Research has shown that eating a Mediterranean style diet— which is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant diet high in vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, and legumes; moderate consumption of poultry, eggs, and dairy products; and only occasional consumption of red meat—is associated with healthier mood and reduced incidence of low mood and anxiety (compared to the typical “western” diet).
Foods that can cause or contribute to anxiety and mood fluctuations include fried foods and take-away, refined sugar, alcohol, coffee, energy and soft-drinks, fruit juices, white carbohydrates (bread, pasta, pastries, white rice), processed foods and artificial flavours, sweeteners, additives and colours.
What’s the gut got to do with it?
Your digestive tract is home to trillions of microorganisms that benefit your body more than you probably realise. You might have heard that your gut bacteria help to digest your food and support your immune function, but did you know they can also affect your mood?
Your gut bacteria send signals to your brain via the vagus nerve, the major nerve that connects your brain with your digestive system. Scientists are still discovering exactly how these signals are able to affect mood, but what we do know is that having a large portion of beneficial bacteria in your gut increases your likelihood of feeling good. A simple way to boost your levels of good gut bacteria is to eat more fibre, which feeds and fuels them to grow and thrive. Aim for around 20 g of fibre per day, starting with at least two serves of your favourite crunchy vegetables with meals, and snacking on a couple of small handfuls of mixed nuts daily.
If you find that eating more fibre (or any of the recommended foods above) causes bloating , gas or stomach discomfort this is a sign that your gut bacteria may need further support with the help of a Naturopath who will assess your digestive health and make recommendations that will boost your beneficial bacteria without causing you discomfort.
For specific, individualised advice on how to improve your mood and gut health through diet, nutritional supplementation and herbal medicine drop into Gisborne Health Essentials and have a chat with one of our Naturopaths.
Firth, J., Gangwisch, J. E., Borisini, A., Wootton, R. E., & Mayer, E. A. (2020). Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? bmj, 369.
Larrieu, T., & Layé, S. (2018). Food for mood: relevance of nutritional omega-3 fatty acids for depression and anxiety. Frontiers in physiology, 9, 1047.
Metagenics Institute Australia (2020). https://www.metagenicsinstitute.com.au