Whether we know it or not, the types of food we eat not only affects our bodies but also our mental health, which in turn can alter our mood and how we are feeling at any given moment.
We know that if we continue to eat foods that are processed and high in fat and sugar, it could lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. But these foods can also impact our brains, chemically and physiologically. In my practice as licensed therapist as well as a Certified Nutritional Advisor, I can help educate, and recommend ways to begin feeling better.
There is a link between eating and how we feel. When people eat to feel better, this is called emotional eating, which can lead to eating disorders and overeating.
Foods that can negatively impact your mood (and mental health) are:
- Processed foods
- High fat foods
- Refined Sugar
In 2014, there was a study done in New Zealand among over 4,200 students that showed eating a diet in high-quality, healthy foods resulted in better mental health and emotional well-being, whereas those students who ate an unhealthy diet did not improve mentally and showed signs of emotional distress. We know that what we eat matters in our mental well-being!
How Food Affects Your Mood
There are several ways food can affect your mood:
Studies have shown that people who consume copious amounts of sugar are more likely to be depressed or show signs of mood disorders as their blood sugar rises and falls. It can feel like an emotional roller coaster when you eat that donut and feel a spike in energy, but then a few hours later, feel the sugar crash and come down from those high energy levels.
Sugar also suppresses a critical growth hormone in our brains called BDNF, which accounts for the health, maintenance and reproduction of neurons in the brain. BDNF also helps with our memory function by connecting these neurons and improving our thinking. Low levels of BDNF caused by sugar consumption can trigger depression.
Sugar is also at the helm of chronic inflammation in our bodies when it’s consumed and starts a series of chemical reactions. Normally, a little inflammation is a good thing, like when you need to heal from a small infection. It’ll increase your immune activity and blood flood. However, chronic inflammation, caused by processed sugar, can weaken the immune system and cause damage to the brain.
People who suffer from depression should try cutting out refined sugar from their diet to see if there is any improvement in their mood, mental clarity, and energy levels.
High fatty and sugary foods may not cause anxiety but for those people who suffer from anxiety issues, it could worsen their symptoms and weaken their ability to cope with stress. Sugar creates changes in the body and people who are hypersensitive to these sensations will notice these changes. (A sugar rush and crash can also leave someone feeling shaky, jittery or nervous.)
In doing so, it can trigger anxiety or panic attacks as the person worries or fears what is going on in their body after consuming large amounts of unhealthy fats and sugars. When glucose is released under levels of stress (and the release of insulin to counter glucose), the person may experience blurry vision, feelings of fatigue, or are not able to think clearly.
It can be hard to stop from eating a whole box of cookies once you’ve had a few. That’s because when we eat sweet or fatty foods, it releases dopamine (aka the feel good drug) in our bodies and we feel a sense of pleasure and contentment. The way drug addicts are addicted to drugs, we can become addicted to sugar and foods high in fat.
This study concluded that “‘Food addiction’ seems plausible because brain pathways that evolved to respond to natural rewards are also activated by addictive drugs. Sugar is noteworthy as a substance that releases opioids and dopamine and thus might be expected to have addictive potential.”
Learning and Memory
When you consume large amounts of sugar, you will notice a surge in energy because it’s your brain’s preferred source of fuel. When you eat or drink anything sugary, you may notice an increase in mental clarity, memory, and thinking. But it doesn’t last very long and then you will feel the effects of the “sugar crash.” Consuming too much sugar will impair your cognitive functions and damage your memory.
When we stress, our bodies release certain hormones, specifically cortisol, that trigger our fight-or-flight response. This response prepares us for any danger that may be lurking around the corner. But remember, the brain cannot tell the difference between real danger and imagined danger that we concoct in our minds. So our blood sugar levels spike preparing us to either defend ourselves or flee the situation.
When we feel overwhelmed or are under a lot of stress, our bodies crave energy because we are depleting it so fast as we worry, increasing our glucose levels or blood sugar. That is why some people will grab sugary or fatty snacks when under extreme amounts of stress. They need that pick-me-up to keep their energy levels up, but that will only run their bodies ragged in the end.
15 Best Foods That Will Improve Your Mood
- Mussels and oysters
- Fish and fish oil
- Swiss chard and other leafy greens
- Cherry tomatoes
- Lentils, chickpeas, and beans
- Pumpkin seeds
- Walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts
- Pastured eggs
- Dark chocolate or raw cacao nibs or powder
- Greek Yogurt
Due to the negative side effects that refined sugar (and other unhealthy foods) have on our bodies and mental state, it would be wise for people to start minimizing or cutting out these types of foods from their diets.
Every client at Healing Happens Therapy receives an overall health assessment, and as a Certified Nutritional Advisor and Licensed therapist, I can help recommend what foods and supplements that can support you in feeling better. Visit my office today in Oakland by calling 510 507-1763 or visit me at www.healinghappenstherapy.com.