Healthy Living - What we eat can affect how we feel
Can you believe it is nearly a year since Covid arrived in Ireland and we first went into lockdown! And here we are yet again in another lockdown.
Although it does feel slightly easier this time around, because we can see the light at the end of the very long tunnel, it is just as important now than ever to look after our mental health.
By now most of us know the important link between our physical health and what we eat, but did you know that nutrition also has a big impact on your mood and mental health.
Although managing stress, anxiety and depression can be difficult, and there is no one size fits all solution, some people may benefit from seeing their doctor and following their recommendations while for others a more holistic approach may work better.
Regardless what route you decide to take, the right diet combined with appropriate lifestyle changes can have a profound impact on your mood.
A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health and a healthy diet has been shown to be protective whilst an unhealthy diet has been shown to be a risk factor for depression and anxiety.
If you have been reading my weekly column over the last couple of months you will have seen me regularly write about blood sugar balance, and how it can benefit your energy and weight loss.
An imbalance of blood sugar has also been linked to stress, anxiety and depression; did you know that up to 50% of low mood is down to blood sugar imbalances?
Learning how to manage your blood sugar is the key to having more energy, a better mood and controlling your weight . Feeling more confident about the way you look is in itself an excellent way to boost feelings of self-worth.
So how do we balance our blood sugars?
Eat regularly, three main meals a day and two snacks if you need them (if going more than four hours between meals)
Eat protein and or healthy fats with every meal or snack. (think nuts, seeds, lean meat, oily fish, eggs)
Choose low GL carbohydrates that keep your blood sugar levels even and help to minimise mood-altering blood sugar dips. (think wholegrain bread instead of white, brown rice & pasta, sweet potatoes, oat cakes, wholegrain cereals instead of sugary cereals, and watch the portion sizes)
So what foods help your mood?
Certain foods may play a role in the cause of mood disorders, or they may make symptoms worse.
A nutritious brain diet follows the same logic as a heart healthy regimen or weight control plan. You want to limit sugary and high-fat processed foods, and opt for nutritious foods that will provide you with, sufficient protein, provided you with an optimal supply of essential amino acids, so make sure to have a source of protein with every meal.
High mood-boosting Vitamin B foods like nuts, seeds, beans and green leafy vegetables which also include essential zinc and magnesium and are good for mental stability, as zinc helps control the body’s response to stress and low levels have been linked to depression.
It has been shown that people with low B12 levels have more brain inflammation and higher rates of depression and dementia.
Falling short on B vitamins has long been linked to low moods with studies suggesting there is a definite link between vitamin B and stress levels.
When we eat real food that nourishes us, it becomes the protein-building blocks, enzymes, brain tissue, and neurotransmitters that transfer information and signals between various parts of the brain and body. Certain nutrients are linked to changes in a brain protein that helps increase connections between brain cells. A diet rich in nutrients like omega-3s and zinc boosts levels of this substance.
On the other hand, "a diet high in trans fats and refined sugars has a very potent negative impact on brain proteins.
Few of us get enough omega-3 fats in our diet, and these are key to our mood and brain function. The dry weight of our brain is literally 60% fat - so not surprising that we depend on a daily intake of essential fats.
EPA, DPA and DHA all help build and rebuild your brain, and are part of the equation for happiness. The higher your blood levels of omega-3 fats, the higher your levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin are likely to be.
Omega-3 fats help build receptor sites as well as improving their function.
Sources of omega-3 fats: oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, cod, tuna, halibut), walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds. Most plant sources of omega-3 do not contain the long-chain fatty acids mentioned above. Although the body can make those from short-chain omega-3s – like the ones found in nuts and seeds – conversion is poor and it is difficult to get enough omega-3 that way, therefore If you are vegetarian or vegan, consider taking an omega-3 supplement for example DHA from seaweed.
Last but certainly not least is the all-important gut health!
The human gut is lined with more than 100 million nerve cells, Yes, we have brain cells in our large intestines! This explains why antibiotics which disturb the gut microbiome may interact with psychotropic medications, and influence our mood . This also explains why mood disorders are so prevalent in patients with irritable bowel syndrome.
Chemicals implicated in depression such as serotonin are also found in the gut; 90% of serotonin is manufactured in the digestive tract and not the brain. Many antidepressants work by increasing serotonin. It has been shown that gut bacteria produce many other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, and GABA, which are critical for mood, anxiety and motivation. The gut microbiome can cause changes in how our brains react.
Also, stress makes us more likely to develop mood disorders. And stress makes the gut more permeable to bacteria and this may lead to dysbiosis—an imbalance of good to bad gut bacteria. In sum, depression is maybe caused by dysfunctional gut-brain-immune system interactions.
Good gut bacteria or the absence of some bad ones can make us more resilient to depressive states after stressors or trauma. It is not surprising that chronic exposure to stress is associated with a higher incidence of depression, anxiety and PTSD. But not everyone who faces stress develops a depression or anxiety , and not everyone who experiences a trauma develops PTSD, and may be due to the individuals gut health!
To help balance your gut bacteria introduce some fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt with live active cultures, which provide good gut bacteria.
If you struggle to make changes to your diet or need help choosing the right supplement or probiotic for you, why not book an appointment with me, there is no time like the present, my clinic is open but due to the current restrictions all consultations are online, and I am taking bookings for new and existing clients, so just pop me a message if you would like to schedule an appointment. contact details below.
Debbie Devane from The Nutri Coach is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and health & lifestyle coach, Debbie runs her clinic from the Glenard Clinic in Mountmellick and also offers one to one and group online consultations via zoom, so it doesn’t matter what part of the country you are in! . Debbie is also Nutritionist to the Offaly GAA senior footballers
For more information or to make an appointment email Debbie at
Facebook: The Nutri Coach @debbiedevanethenutricoach
For more information go to www.thenutricoach.ie