Do you ever feel a little off-kilter, like anything your colleague/partner/kid says might hit you the wrong way? Maybe you feel fragile, like things affect you more than they should and you can’t quite bounce back. Or like you’re on a roller-coaster throughout the day, sometimes in a great mood and then suddenly hit a low?
Depressive disorders are now the leading cause of disability worldwide. (source) Let’s talk about the food-mood connection, and how to fix up some nutritional mistakes you could be making that are causing you to act like a crazy biatch.
These mood patterns could be so ingrained from eating your regular diet for ages that you won’t even know you’re being thrown off. Maybe you even just think it’s “your personality”, or “it must be menopause”, or “life is just too much and I get stressed”.
Try these techniques and you might just find a new balance.
How are nutrition and mood connected?
The human body basically contains 2 brains, one in the head, and one in the gut. These are formed from the same tissue during fetal development. Even when you’re all grown they’re still connected by the vagus nerve which travels up the abdomen. This nerve is how the bacteria in your microbiome communicate with the brain. (source)
A rapidly emerging field of research suggests that the microbiome-gut-brain axis is of substantial relevance to mood and behaviour. Similarly, unhealthy diet has recently emerged as a significant correlate of and risk factor for depression. […] Although in its early stages, the emerging field of research focused on the human microbiome suggests an important role for the gut microbiota in influencing brain development, behaviour and mood in humans. (source)
If your gut is healthy and balanced, the same will go for your brain and your moods. It’s vital to foster a healthy microbiome for many, many reasons, and stable positive mood is one of them. As explained here, “What we eat affects everything from our production of neurotransmitters and hormones to our energy levels and the quality of our synaptic connections – all of which can determine how well we respond to the stresses and demands of daily living.”
First a little good-mood-food inspiration…
Here are a number of testimonials from people who transitioned to real food / paleo nutrition:
I’m a little over 3 months Paleo but I cut the grains and sugar very gradually. I used to get depressed and angry, especially when I was tired or going through a stressful situation. In the last month or so, I’ve noticed that I haven’t gotten angry or depressed even though nothing has changed but my diet and overall health. Maybe it’s being healthier and my husband is also a lot happier (he’s Paleo, too) and healthier that’s made the difference. (source)
I have been eating a Paleo diet for about 6 weeks. Not only is my arthritis pain gone but I’m finding that I sometimes forget to take my meds for anxiety. […] My moods are better in that I’m handling things well without that overwhelming feeling that I can’t cope. […] I plan on keeping tabs on my moods and slowly reducing meds. (source)
I have struggled with depression for most of my life. I have now been eating paleo for about a year: meats, veggies, little fruit, little dairy, lots of fats, no coffee, some chocolate, little sugar. […] I have no real objective measurement, but I do feel that my memory is better, there is less fogginess in thinking and awareness, and I just feel that I’m on an even keel emotionally. Things that may have formerly upset me may still bother me, but bother me less. (source)
I inadvertently fell into a paleo diet while trying to cure my 4+ year long struggle with moderate depression (dysthymia) and the addiction to carbs and sugar that came along with it. In terms of ‘normal mood’ changes that I noticed, I find myself enjoying nature and wanting to be outside to get fresh air, if something stressful/upsetting occurs i’m able to deal with it properly and resume to a level/stable mood and I have motivation to complete goals and actually do things. If I have to cry, its therapeutic and I accept is as being a normal human emotion to release whatever i’m feeling as opposed to the deep/hopeless/painful crying that often accompanies depression. I no longer consider myself to be depressed and it is literally all thanks to the food i’m now feeding my body. (source)
Foods to avoid for better & more stable mood
Gluten intolerance is linked to autoimmune thyroid conditions (the body begins to attack the thyroid). The thyroid plays a huge role in regulating the metabolism and thereby keeping mood stable. Not only does gluten encourage autoimmune disease but it also damages mood-regulating functions in the gut:
A number of studies indicate that wheat can have a detrimental effect on mood, promoting depression and even more serious mental health problems such as schizophrenia. One mechanism that can help explain the mysterious connection between wheat and mental health problems is the fact that wheat inhibits production of serotonin.
Neurotransmitters like serotonin can be found not just in your brain, but also in your gut. In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression and aggression, is found in your intestines, not your brain! (source)
This indicates that when you eat wheat the serotonin that should be produced in the gut is inhibited, and your mood suffers. Basically, wheat = sad and angry.
SOLUTION: Try entirely eliminating gluten for 2 weeks. If this sounds hard, try Real Plans for ready-made meal plans and shopping lists.
Sugary foods have a toxic effect on your mood and mental health, not only through the direct effect of “sugar high –> sugar low” but also via at least 3 different mechanisms where it damages hormone signaling, neuron health and impairs the immune system. (source) If this is a topic that interests you, the book Sugar Blues comes highly recommended.
This would include obviously any processed sugary foods containing refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup etc, but also excess amounts of natural sugars (anything beyond, in my opinion, 3 servings per day). Why? It’s a completely unnatural amount of sugar to be consuming on any regular basis. A hunter-gatherer would have probably feasted on fruit a couple of times a year at most when it was in season and they found a good source, but this would definitely not be the norm on a daily basis. Our biochemistry is not designed to deal with this amount of sugar, natural or no.
SOLUTION: Break that sugar addiction! Need help? Go here!
I know we’re getting a bit broad here, but I’m talking about anything containing:
- pesticides and herbicides – this would be non-organic produce, especially the Dirty Dozen. Pesticides are claimed to not directly harm humans, but they DO harm our gut bacteria, which by now we understand has huge effects on our health and well-being.
- artificial colours and sweeteners – Aspartame in particular, since “both depression and panic attacks are known potential side effects of aspartame consumption.” (source)
- genetically-modified organisms – these alter the gut bacteria for the worse – avoid foods containing non-organic corn, canola, soy and sugarbeet like the plague.
Foods to eat for better & more stable mood
In general, a traditional, whole-foods diet devoid of processed foods and focusing on healthy animal proteins, organic vegetables, good fats and fermented foods is what we’re aiming for here. (Want meal plans? This is what I recommend!)
This article in Psychology Today sums up how a typical Western Diet faces off against a traditional diet for gut and mood health.
A sicker microbiota (meaning in general less diversity and species and more pathologic species) is associated with a “leaky gut” wherein more inflammatory particles and bacterial cell parts pass through the gut lining, leading to systemic inflammation and problems, fatigue, and depressive behavior (avoidance, lack of energy and motivation).
Traditional diets tend to have more fiber and vegetable matter than the Western diet, which tends to have more highly refined carbohydrates. These fibers feed the microbiota in a healthy way, whereas lots of sugar and/or low carbohydrate Western diets have been associated with more pathogenic species of bacteria in the microbiome.
Nutrients to support good mood
Specifically we can focus on consuming more foods that are rich in fiber, minerals and nutrients such as iodine, selenium, Omega 3s, natural saturated fats, copper and iron. These help support the endocrine system and feed a healthy gut microbiome. Here are some foods to include in your next grocery shop! (source)
- Dark leafy greens
- Red meat – grass-fed beef and lamb
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Shellfish – Oysters, Clams
- Chia seeds
- Sunflower Seeds
- Brazil Nuts
- Organ Meats (hide liver in meat loaf, meatballs, soup)
- Kelp and seaweed (capsules or dried, found in the Asian aisle or at the health food store)
- B-complex vitamin (this is the one I use)
How does food affect your mood?
Try keeping a journal for a couple of days, especially when you’re feeling particularly happy or notably anxious/sad/negative. I definitely notice a connection with wheat, sugar and coffee. If I have these things in the morning, I’ll be super lethargic in the afternoon, and then a sad sack in the evening (several hours later). If I stick with green tea and a clean eating regime I’m a lot more stable!
Share below or on Facebook, I want to know what helps or hinders your mood!