Using Food to Improve Your Mood – How Diet and Mental Health Are Related

Written by Dr. Jonathan Peterson, Updated on January 10th, 2024, Published on June 14th, 2022

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The brain and the body form a single unit. The nutrients (and the junk) we put in our bodies impact the way both body and mind perform. Diet can greatly affect how we perceive the world and can influence mood significantly. It's harder to be happy during a sugar crash. Food impacts hormone balance, gut microbiome, stress levels, and energy levels, all of which have an effect on your overall mood. If you aren't eating right, this can negatively affect your current mood and your long-term mental wellness. Let's talk about some ways that food interacts with attitude.

Blood Sugar Crashes and Spikes Alter Mood

Our bodies aren't really designed to handle the amount of simple carbs that we are exposed to every day. It's the main reason why obesity and Type-2 Diabetes are on the rise. When you eat junk starches and sugars, those calories are shot directly into your bloodstream, which causes a spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash as those calories are stored, burned, or released.

Research has shown that people with elevated blood sugar are more likely to have depression. It's common to feel rapid changes in energy level associated with short temper and anxiety as a result of these blood sugar changes. If you notice energy and mood changes during extended periods without food or immediately after a big meal, your mood issues could stem from your blood sugar.

The Digestive System and Gut Microbiome Impact Mood

While we like to think that our brains are in full control of our bodies, there is some competition out there. The Enteric Nervous System is a massive distribution of neurons throughout the gastrointestinal tract which works to process your food and send signals regarding your body's nutritional needs and desires. If something is out of whack in the digestive system, this can trigger mood fluctuation and other mental health issues.

There are trillions of bacteria in your stomach and intestines that influence the way that your body absorbs food. Our bodies work with gut flora to maximize nutrient absorption, though there are also bacteria that are bad actors. We're just really beginning to understand how this microflora impacts the way we think and feel. We know that they alter dopamine and serotonin signaling. We also know that bad things can happen if they are somehow eradicated.

Eating Better to Balance Mood

It's very much possible to use food as a weapon to improve and balance your mood, increase your energy, and simply enhance your quality of life. While junk food will give you fleeting pleasure, taking the steps to eat well will provide vastly superior results. Maintaining healthy blood sugar is all about eating foods that digest slowly and are densely packed with nutrients. This limits blood sugar turbulence and provides a stable source of energy.

You should opt for a diet rooted in complex carbohydrates and high fiber with ample helpings of healthy fats and lean proteins. A recent study showed that 21 days of healthy dieting in this way helped to reduce the severity of depression in young men and women.

Time Meals for Mental Benefits

When you eat matters almost as much as what you eat. Proper meal timing helps maintain balanced energy levels. The two best ways to do meals are to eat small portions throughout the day or to commit to a schedule of intermittent fasting where you only eat during 8-12 hours of the day. Studies provide evidence that both options can be good for you in their own way. Both maintain an improved balance of Insulin and Human Growth Hormone.

The important factor is to not pile all your calories in one or two sittings. If you opt for intermittent fasting, make sure you eat breakfast and restrict calories at night for the best psychological benefit. Skipping breakfast or eating too late have been correlated with an increased risk of sleep irregularities and neuroticism.

Diet Tracking to Help Maintain Good Vibes

Another great way to learn more about how diet affects your personal mental health is to keep a food journal. You can do this with a pen and pad, or you can download one of the many fitness apps out there that have an option for food diaries. You can use this extra information to help time meals and design your diet around your psychological health!

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