Lifestyle,  Nutrition

How Food Affects Your Mood

How does the food you eat affect your mood? Science has recently focused on how diet can influence changes in our brain structure both chemically and physiologically, affecting our mood and behaviour.

Depression has been attributed to theories of biological and psychological influences for some time. Whilst there’s no specific diet that’s been proven to treat depression, many researchers now think there might be a link between depression and chronic inflammation.

What Causes Chronic Inflammation?

  • Stress – Prolonged stress leads to increased levels of cortisol – our stress hormone. Prolonged chronic stress increases inflammation, changing gene activity of immune cells, and accelerated biological aging.
  • Sugar – Eating too much sugar can cause increased low-grade inflammation in the body increasing the risk of chronic disease.
  • Toxins & Chemicals – exposure to drugs, chemical and industrial toxins triggers body-wide damaging of cells within the body.
  • Pathogens – such as infection, viruses, bacteria, and tissue injury, trigger the inflammatory response where the body’s protective immune system causes damage to its own tissues.

Evidence suggests swapping out many inflammatory foods, such as junk food to improve our ability to resist infection, maintain healthy body weight, and reduce depression and anxiety risk.

The Sneaky Stuff

Most of us know what is considered junk food — foods like lollies, ice-cream, chips, fast food etc.

We can often relate to how we feel and see changes in our mood (and often our gut) after we eat these kinds of foods.

However, many so-called ‘health foods’ may be sabotaging your efforts on your journey to health.

Improving your diet is a simple, cost-effective approach that’s good for your physical and mental health 

Remember — there is no one size fits all approach to nutrition.

Eat according to what works for YOU.

Nutrition should always take on a personalised approach. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ diet doesn’t exist.

Unhealthy eating (and drinking) patterns, like emotional eating, are often used by people suffering depression and PTSD to decrease their symptoms. It helps to control how the memory of trauma makes them feel.

Making positive diet and lifestyle choices and having access to only wholesome, natural and unprocessed foods puts you back in control and removes stress and anxiety that’s often related to food.

Trick Foods You Might Think Are Good For You

  • Foods labelled as “low-fat” or “fat-free” usually mean it’s a processed product with added sugar to replace the fat and add flavour
  • Store bought Salad Dressings & Sauces — often high in hydrogenated fat, salt & sugar
  • Breakfast, muesli, & protein Bars — high in sugar, trans fats, and preservatives
  • Breakfast Cereals — high in sugar and refined grains, even those labelled “organic”
  • Fruit juice & fruit poppers — high in sugar, low in fibre
  • Commercial Sports Drinks — contain electrolytes (salts), sugar and often artificial flavours. For the average adult or child, sports drinks are unnecessary
  • Processed Organic Foods — Organic doesn’t necessarily mean its healthy, these foods can contain the same amount of sugar as regular processed food
  • Processed Gluten-free Foods — Same deal as organic, if it’s highly processed it’s not necessarily healthy and still high in sugar and salt
  • Roasted and Salted Nuts — added vegetable oils and salt
  • Regular peanut butter — high in fat and salt with additives
  • Flavoured yoghurt — fruit flavoured varieties and those marketed towards children are loaded with sugar and can contain additives
  • Margarine — often marketed as heart-healthy, margarine contains chemical additives and refined vegetable oils

Increase Your Antioxidants

You can decrease the damage of inflammation to your cells, particularly your brain and your gut by eating foods high in antioxidants, including:

Berries (blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, blackberries are the highest), grapes, apples, are ranked the highest amongst fruit.

Eggplant, broccoli, leeks, onions, beans, artichoke, garlic, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, peppers, sweet potato, russet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, spinach, kale, parsley, tomato, red wine, dark chocolate (the higher the cocoa content the better 70-99%), and tea.

Pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts rank in the highest of the nuts.

Try This Daily to Improve Your Mood

  1. Start your day with a large glass of warm water with half a squeezed lemon. Not only is it a natural appetite suppressant — lemon juice is a natural source of vitamin C, aids digestion, and can help to prevent constipation. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper for a metabolism boost. Fresh, grated ginger will add extra zing!
  2. Introduce a well balanced green smoothie for breakfast or lunch. It’s amazing the nutrient density you can pack into one simple drink!
  3. Move your body daily, you don’t have to work out hard or long to reap the benefits. Walking is good for your body and your mood. Just 15 minutes of moderate intensity can improve your brain and memory function.
  4. Eat Healthy Fats for brain health. Eating more foods such as fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Good quality oils like extra virgin olive, coconut oil, and MCT oil, are important for cognitive health.
  5. Eat Protein-Rich Foods good quality protein sources like free-range chicken, turkey, and tuna all contain the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to making serotonin — the feel-good neurotransmitter. Other good sources are legumes, nuts, fish, and full-fat dairy (if tolerated).
  6. Avoid processed foods where sugar is listed in the first three ingredients.
  7. Stay Hydrated the human body is 60% water. Chronic dehydration increases symptoms of fear, anger, anxiety, depression, paranoia, irritability, headaches, and constipation.
  8. Be kind to yourself take some time out for yourself every day. Meditating, yoga, surfing, gardening, whatever floats your boat! It’s not all about sitting in the lotus position and emptying your thoughts. Whatever it is that can take you away from your stress, and it can be in small bursts of just a few minutes at a time. It all adds up.

Clean Out Your Pantry

I don’t believe in simply labelling food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Food is to be enjoyed and provide nourishment and fuel for your body and your brain.

We often tend to overthink food, and surround ourselves by temptation and guilt.

Simply start to bring healthy foods into your pantry and fridge, and remove those that don’t serve you by using a ‘swap’ system. This can make you feel less like you are depriving yourself and your family.

It puts you back in control.

Swapping This For That

Swap OutSwap in alternative
Sugar &
Honey, pure maple syrup, stevia
70-85% dark chocolate or raw cacao.
Protein balls, raw fudge
Soft drinks &
sports drinks
Water with fresh lemon or lime, coconut water
DIY Electrolyte drink —
water, lemon, Celtic Sea salt & honey
MargarineOrganic Butter, extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil
Lettuce for wraps or gluten free seeded bread
Oats with nuts and seeds
Natural Greek yogurt with nuts and sliced fruit
Scrambled eggs with vegetables
Natural Greek Yoghurt with raw honey and real fruit
PastaZucchini spirals (can lightly cook in coconut oil),
brown rice pasta, mung bean pasta
Potato chipsHome made kale chips, nori
Cows milk Almond/coconut/oat/rice milk (avoid sweetened)
Table saltPink Himalayan or Celtic sea salt
Potato FriesSweet potato chips
White RiceBrown Rice, Cauliflower ‘rice’


Changing your surroundings to healthier choices is one of the easiest ways to start your journey to a better and more sustainable lifestyle.

Relying on willpower to force yourself to stick to a strict diet doesn’t work. By simplifying your choices and reducing the decisions you need to make around food requires less thought and energy.

Remember: Willpower is a limited resource, it’s like a muscle that becomes fatigued from overuse.

Social Psychologist Roy Baumeister

Have a Plan

  1. Say farewell to those non-nutritious foods and remove anything in your house that doesn’t support your goals.
  2. Re-stock your pantry with healthy ‘swap in’ options.
  3. Make a meal plan and grocery list each week. Or have themed nights, for eg. Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Rice Paper Roll Wednesday.
  4. Eat more meals as a family — eating together has been linked with increased child and adolescent intake of fruit and vegetables and other healthy foods
  5. Batch Cooking — a great time saver. Whilst not for everyone batch cooking is a great way to make bulk meals or staples that can be used throughout the week.
  6. Cook Once + Eat Twice — cooking extra portions each time you cook will provide meals for leftovers &/or freezing. This means you only need to cook a few times per week. Every time the oven is on is a great opportunity to roast up extra vegetables that can be added to salads, frittatas, lunch boxes etc.

The key is to develop daily routines and habits that become automatic.

Celebrate your achievements no matter how small. You may only tick off one thing a day. It’s ok. Go at your own pace, it’s important to not add further stress, implement new habits in a time frame that suits you.

Follow these simple steps and you will be on a fast track to a healthier you. The results will speak for themselves in improved body composition, less stress, and improved mood.

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