Have you ever wondered whether what you eat affects your mood? When was the last time you thought about what you put in your mouth? Why is it that despite getting 9 hours sleep you wake up feeling lethargic and groggy with zero energy?
Fast foods are making us not so fast
Iron deficiency aside, our diets have a huge impact on not just our fitness, but our mood. We now live in a convenience culture that celebrates ease, meaning we prioritise food that’s quick and painless as opposed to what is nutritional.
This is reflective in the fast-food market, with the UK seeing a 34% increase in fast- food outlets from 2010 to 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics.
We’re constantly enticed by billboards, catchy slogans and ads with carefully crafted images of food designed to trigger our salivation glands. Yet despite all this, we know fast food is not good for us.
Processed carbs, sweeteners and refined sugar are just a few of the negatives that comes with it. In her book, The Happiness Diet, Rachel Kelly writes about how eating fast food can have a detrimental effect on your emotions. Speaking to The Business Insider, Rachel reveals that trans-fat found in fries causes an imbalance of omega 3 fatty acids which can lead to depression- like symptoms.
She also states that despite the mainstream narrative telling us diet drinks are a better alternative, an amino acid in the artificial sweetener, phenylalanine, has been found in Diet Coke to slow down our production in serotonin, therefore stinting our happiness.
Research from the medical journal Nutritional Neuroscience reveals that for people under thirty, food has the power to affect their wellbeing by ‘altering brain chemistry’. According to the study, brain maturation is not reached until thirty, explaining the volatile relationship between food and one’s mental health.
This tells us that those below and above 30 react differently to food, highlighting the importance of a nutritional diet for a developing person. The young people within the study who ate fast food more than three times a week were more likely to display signs of mental distress.
So, now we know that the fast-food industry is a lie, what’s the next step? Slaving away in the kitchen for hours following a 16-step recipe to get some real nutrition down you?
Gud with fud
Often healthy good foods are associated with great complexity, juxtaposing against the convenience culture we are so accustomed to. However, we can boost our mood by implementing small, simple changes to our diet. Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants and vitamins, which can reduce the chance of disease as well as preventing damage to your cells. In this case an apple a day really might just keep the doctor away.
Whilst carbs are often seen as the devil’s food, it’s time we unlearnt this archaic image and delved deeper. There are two types of carbs: simple and complex. Ultimately, all carbohydrates break down into glucose, which is used to fuel our cells and our brain. However, the more complex the carb, the slower the release of glucose into our blood. This is good for our bodies as it means our cells will be fuelled for longer. With simple carbs, our bodies receive an influx of glucose at once, which ultimately leads to a sugar crash as well as mood changes.
Symptoms of Hypoglycaemia, a condition that causes low glucose levels, consist of brain- related mood changes such as anxiety, irritability and a lack of concentration.
Complex carbs are found in the following foods:
-wholegrain foods (brown rice, oats, quinoa )
-potatoes & sweet potatoes
-fibre- rich fruit and vegetables
-beans (lentils, legumes, chickpeas)
-low-fat dairy products
High-protein foods such as fish, chicken, beef, tofu, and eggs are also great for us. One of the amino acids, tryptophan, produces serotonin which can boost our happiness, and has been linked to mood motivation and increased concentration.
The Mediterranean diet has become popularised by its low saturated fats, antioxidant, and energising properties. Combining the goodness of high- protein, fresh produce, and anti-inflammatory properties, it is regarded as one of the healthiest dietary models globally.
The variety of foods within this diet brings a decreased risk in heart disease, stroke, cancer, and dementia, as well as a better quality of life. Its lack of processed and refined foods are some of the reasons why those following this traditional diet have a 25% – 35% decreased risk of depression.
An anti-inflammatory diet consists of taking in foods rich with amino acids, omega 3 fats, B & D vitamins, and Zinc, as these all have direct links to increasing one’s mental health. In fact, anti-inflammatory paleo diets are even incorporated at some mental rehab centres. An anti-inflammatory diet can include the following:
-nuts and seeds.
Trust your gut
Something that is incredibly important to look at when considering how food can affect our mood is our gut health. Our gut produces a whopping 95% of our serotonin, according to the Harvard Medical School. The quality of production for these neurotransmitters directly correlates with the type of food we eat. Thus, if we don’t nourish our bodies correctly then we will see direct implications of our poor nutrition on our mood.
Within our gut we have good bacteria residing in our intestinal microbiome that is responsible for absorbing nutrients from food. The productivity of the bacteria that reside there depend on having good gut health, so if that’s not the case our gut cannot absorb nutrients properly from our food, affecting both our digestive system and mood. Think of it like this; the human body is one big machine, and if one cog is out of place it affects our whole system. Crazy, right?
It doesn’t have to be hard to nourish our bodies correctly. Fad diets and pressure to make the ‘right’ food choices have made us think of a healthy lifestyle as all or nothing. The key is to take small steps; eat a piece of fruit, replace red meat with chicken, throw in some broccoli with your salad. Remember; even the smallest change is still change.