Does food have the power to put us in a good or bad mood depending on what we eat? Recent research says so.
- Brain Fuel. The brain cannot utilise energy from fat or protein. Our brain function comes from an adequate supply of glucose to the brain. Blood glucose primarily comes from eating carbs – fruit, veg, cereals, bread, sugars and lactose in milk. Eating breakfast and regular meals ensures you have enough glucose in your blood throughout the day. Not having enough (hypoglycaemia), will make you feel weak, tired and ‘fuzzy headed’. This is a particular risk for diabetics and athletes, or people on very restricted diets.
- Comfort Eating. Serotonin, the chemical messenger in our brain, improves mood and how we feel. More serotonin is made when the amino acid called Tryptophan enters the brain. Comfort eating is mostly associated with carbohydrates like cakes and chocolate. However, there is not enough evidence to support any physiological effect of ‘comfort eating’. Some researchers suggest the feeling of pleasure from these foods is more associated with cultural occasions and rewards. It may also be because the brain gets a quick supply of blood glucose from eating foods like chocolate. However, this will always be followed by peaks and troughs in mood; which doesn’t help in keeping it stable.
- Caffeine. Caffeine is often called a drug as it mimics stimulants and can increase alertness and counteract fatigue. However, if you are used to a lot of caffeine, the effects will just ‘normalise’ your decreased alertness that day. Too much, especially in people not used to it, will cause adverse effects with irritability and headaches.
- Vitamins and Minerals. Deficiencies in certain micronutrients have effects on mood. Low iron intake results in low levels of oxygen-carrying haemoglobin in the blood, resulting in anaemia. Anaemia will make you feel weak, tired and lethargic all the time. Deficiencies in the B Vitamins also cause tiredness and feelings of depression. Fortified foods are a good way to combat Vitamin B deficiency. Low folate is particularly important for young females in childbearing years and can particularly increase the chance of depression in older people. Also, low intake of selenium may increase negative mood states. In the long term, it is always best to obtain nutrients from the diet, but supplements are good for a short-term fix.
So remember, our food affects our mood just as much as our mood affects our food choice. Feeling good comes from a diet adequate in regular carbs to keep blood glucose levels stable, not forgetting the importance of protein and micronutrients to support bodily functions.