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Emotional wellbeing
EMOTIONAL WELLBEING
Published: 29-12-2023
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN FOOD AND MOOD
The connection between food and mood is familiar to us all – from ‘comfort eating’ when we are upset, to feelings of ‘hangry’ when we are starving! The foods we eat contain a multitude of dietary components that play a key role in keeping our brain healthy, can improve memory and concentration, and even boost mood (Kurowska et al., 2023; Firth, 2020).
THE BRAIN IS A HUNGRY ORGAN!
Despite only accounting for about 2% of total body weight, the brain uses up to 20%-25% of our total daily energy (calorie) requirements! Glucose is the main source of fuel for the brain. Blood glucose (sugar) fluctuations can lead to feelings of irritability, lack of concentration, feeling weak and mood swings (i.e., ‘hangry’). Snacks and meals high in fibre and protein, and low in sugar are more slowly absorbed and provide more of a sustained energy release (Benton, 2002).
PROTEINS AND FAT FOR A HEALTHY MIND
Another benefit to including protein in every meal is tryptophan (an amino acid). Tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin, commonly known as the ‘happy’ hormone. Tryptophan rich foods include chicken, eggs, fish, dairy, nuts, seeds and tofu (Benton, 2002). Over 50% of the brain is made up of fatty acids including omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the normal function of the brain and provide anti-inflammatory benefits which may help to protect against cognitive impairment and depression (Larrieu et al., 2018).
VITAMINS AND MINERALS AND MOOD
Many vitamins (e.g., B vitamins, vitamin D, choline) and minerals (e.g., iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, iodine, selenium, manganese and potassium) are required for the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. Low levels of these vitamins and minerals can increase the incidence of feeling low & irritable (Puri et al., 2023).
PHYTONUTRIENTS HELP TO PROTECT THE BRAIN
Phyto (plant-based) nutrients are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts and seeds. Astaxanthin is a type of phytonutrient (carotenoid) found in algae. Phytonutrients help protect against oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain and may even help improve memory (Puri et al., 2023).
THE GUT–BRAIN AXIS
The gut is often referred to as the second brain, as it contains millions of neurons which communicate with the brain. The gut microbiome is the complex ecosystem of microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi) that are found within our gut. These microbes ferment the food we eat to produce vitamins, short chain fatty acids, hormones and neurotransmitters that support brain health. A dysfunctional gut microbiome is linked with anxiety and depression among other neurological conditions (Firth, 2020). Ways to top up on your good bacteria are with probiotics, fermented foods, and prebiotic fibres.
HYDRATION
Adequate hydration is fundamental to cognitive performance. Even mild dehydration can impact mood and alertness (Benton, 2011). Aim to drink 1-1.5 litres of water daily.
AIM FOR A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO EMOTIONAL WELLBEING
A healthy balanced diet in combination with regular physical activity, adequate sleep, social connection, and stress management are the foundation for a healthy mind.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Caroline Cummins MSc is a Registered Nutritionist and a member of Oriflame’s Nutrition Council.
REFERENCES
Benton D. (2002). Carbohydrate ingestion, blood glucose and mood. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 26(3), 293–308. doi.org/10.1016/s0149-7634(02)00004-0 Benton D. (2011). Dehydration influences mood and cognition: a plausible hypothesis?. Nutrients, 3(5), 555–573. doi.org/10.3390/nu3050555 Firth, J., Gangwisch, J. E., Borisini, A., Wootton, R. E., & Mayer, E. A. (2020). Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing?. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 369, m2382. doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m2382 Kurowska, A., Ziemichód, W., Herbet, M., & Piątkowska-Chmiel, I. (2023). The Role of Diet as a Modulator of the Inflammatory Process in the Neurological Diseases. Nutrients, 15(6), 1436. doi.org/10.3390/nu15061436 Larrieu, T., & Layé, S. (2018). Food for Mood: Relevance of Nutritional Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Depression and Anxiety. Frontiers in physiology, 9, 1047. doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2018.01047 Puri, S., Shaheen, M., & Grover, B. (2023). Nutrition and cognitive health: A life course approach. Frontiers in public health, 11, 1023907. doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2023.1023907
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