How does food af­fect our mood?

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Q: I’m par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in how our gut health and diet in­flu­ence our mood. I know that many peo­ple don’t be­lieve it has an im­pact, but I cer­tainly no­tice a change inmy mood when I’m not eat­ing well, re­ly­ing on take­aways or con­sum­ing more pro­cessed foods. Is there any­thing to this? – Alan.

A:

For many years the link be­tween mood and nu­tri­tion has been de­bated. From the com­mon­sense cor­ner we have al­ways known the food we eat af­fects us – you only have to re­call a child’s birth­day party to see just how pow­er­fully the food we eat can im­pact our mood and be­hav­iour. What we eat lit­er­ally be­comes part of us, the amino acids we in­gest help to form the pro­teins that be­come part of our im­mune sys­tem, our mus­cles and so on.

How­ever, many of us have be­come dis­con­nected from this re­la­tion­ship – we can be left think­ing it’s ‘‘normal’’ to feel ter­ri­ble at 3pm, snap be­fore lunch or to con­stantly feel bloated af­ter eat­ing. Our re­la­tion­ship with food

Ask Dr Libby

Email your ques­tions for Dr Libby to ask.dr­libby@fair­fax­me­dia.co.nz. Please note, only a se­lec­tion of ques­tions can be an­swered. is com­plex and of­ten has a strong emo­tional com­po­nent – take for ex­am­ple a stress­ful day – many peo­ple might find them­selves drawn to choco­late, al­co­hol, or take­aways not a health-pro­mot­ing bowl of broc­coli.

If we’re feel­ing tired and slug­gish we tend to reach for caf­feine and sug­ary foods, any­thing that will give us a quick surge of en­ergy.

THE GUT-BRAIN CON­NEC­TION

Sero­tonin is a hor­mone (neu­ro­trans­mit­ter) that leads us to feel happy, calm and con­tent. It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that about 80 per cent of the sero­tonin in the body is made in the gut, so sup­port­ing good gut health can play a role in how we feel each day. When we think of our mood, we tend to think of it be­ing re­lated to our brain, yet many neu­ro­trans­mit­ters are ac­tu­ally made in the gut.

Fer­mented foods such as sauer­kraut are rich in acetic acid which can help pro­mote good stom­ach acid pro­duc­tion and hence great di­ges­tion, al­low­ing ben­e­fi­cial mi­crobes to re­side in the large in­tes­tine, thereby en­hanc­ing our mood. You can buy them or make your own.

Dark choco­late is a good source of tryp­to­phan, an amino acid that sup­ports the pro­duc­tion of sero­tonin. Choco­late con­sump­tion also drives the brain to pro­duce an­other chem­i­cal called anan­damide, which has been shown to tem­porar­ily block feel­ings of pain and de­pres­sion. Dopamine is also pro­duced when we eat choco­late, and this can have a mood lift­ing ef­fect on many peo­ple. How­ever, for those with al­ready el­e­vated dopamine lev­els, ex­ces­sive amounts of choco­late can lead to ten­sion and ag­gres­sion.

So like with all things re­lated to mood, there is no one size fits all; some find choco­late en­hances their mood, for others it gives them a headache and/or fires them up.

Ba­nanas, par­tic­u­larly ripe ba­nanas, can help to reg­u­late dopamine – a feel good fac­tor – as they con­tain a high con­cen­tra­tion of ty­ro­sine, an amino acid that helps gen­er­ate dopamine in the brain. Ba­nanas are also rich in B group vi­ta­mins, in­clud­ing vi­ta­min B6, as well as mag­ne­sium, both es­sen­tial for re­lax­ation and a calm ner­vous sys­tem. Other food sources of ty­ro­sine in­clude al­monds, eggs and meats.

Dr Libby is a nu­tri­tional bio­chemist, best-sell­ing au­thor and speaker. The ad­vice con­tained in this col­umn is not in­tended to be a sub­sti­tute for di­rect, per­son­alised ad­vice from a health pro­fes­sional.

MAARTEN HOLL

Dopamine is pro­duced when we eat choco­late, and this can have a mood lift­ing ef­fect on many peo­ple.

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