How does food affect our mood?
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 in my mood when I’m not eating well, relying on takeaways or consuming more processed foods. Is there anything to this? – Alan.
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
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. 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.
Dopamine is produced when we eat chocolate, and this can have a mood lifting effect on many people.