Improve Your Mood With the Right Foods

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Have you ever felt sick to your stomach as the result of nervousness or anxiety? Perhaps you’ve felt those undesirable tummy rumbles on the way to an important exam or meeting. For many of us, it is clear that our mental state can influence our digestive activity. But did you know that the reverse is also true? Scientists are discovering that the foods we eat may also influence our mental wellbeing! 

There is an emerging field of study called nutritional psychiatry in which scientists are exploring the interconnected relationship between diet and mental health. 

If you ever took an anatomy class, you may have learned about the “enteric nervous system,” which is a complex of over one hundred million nerve cells (also called neurons) in the gastrointestinal tract. The presence of these cells means that there is a two-way relationship between your brain and gut, and they are constantly communicating with one another. In fact, 95% of the body’s serotonin is released by nerve cells in the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin is a chemical signal in the nervous system, also called a neurotransmitter, which regulates mood, sleep and appetite. 

More and more, scientists are also learning about the gut microbiome– a community of microorganisms in the human gastrointestinal tract. Many of these microorganisms are “good bacteria,” and they play a vital role in human health (such as modulating serotonin release, for example). The gut microbiome also plays an important role in limiting chronic inflammation, preventing the overgrowth of harmful organisms in the gut, synthesizing B and K vitamins, and digesting certain foods. Though largely determined in early life, the composition of a person’s gut microbiome is significantly impacted by the food a person eats.

Given this connection between diet and one’s mental state, what are some recommended good mood foods? 

Here are a few key findings:

  • A diet high in high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, has been shown to support a healthy gut microbiome. The composition of the gut microbiome has been linked with mood and energy levels. (source, source)
  • Diets high in fruits and vegetables have been linked to higher levels of reported happiness and positive mental health (source, source)
  • Diets high in refined sugar are linked with oxidative stress, which can contribute to chronic inflammation and impaired brain function (source
  • When compared with the modern Western diet, those who consumed traditional diets, such as the Mediterranean diet or traditional Japanese diet (which are lower in highly processed foods and added sugars), had a 25% to 35% lower risk of depression (source)
  • There is evidence that the Mediterranean diet may provide protective effects against depression (source, source)
  • People who eat in accordance with the Mediterranean diet are 40% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease (source, source)

You may notice that many of these findings demonstrate the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet or eating pattern. You can find more information on this eating pattern at Med Instead of Meds, including many “Med recipes” and webinars about the Mediterranean eating pattern. 

For more tips or support finding recipes to support your health, reach out to your local Family and Consumer Science agent. 

Please note: Though certain foods or dietary patterns may have positive impacts on mental health and wellbeing, this is not to suggest that you can simply eat your way out of a mental health illness or crisis. If you are struggling with your mental health, please consider speaking with a professional or seeking crisis assistance – the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached by dialing 988.