Research is consistent that the fuel you put into your body can have a profound effect on your mood. It took me some time to realise just how much control I could have on my mood with a few tweaks to my diet.
I don’t like telling my clients they can’t have things – I’d much rather concentrate on what we can put in to improve symptoms. There is also no joy in being a food angel 100% of the time! However, being armed with knowledge is power, and the following 5 food and drinks are based on research and are best mostly avoided if you are experiencing depression or anxiety.
Alcohol is implicated in depression & anxiety and there are several ways it can affect mood, including causing poor blood sugar levels and causing dehydration.
Although it is important to enjoy life, and sometimes having a sociable drink with friends can be a good thing for our overall wellbeing, we often reach for alcohol to de-stress and fill a gap which can begin to become a daily emotional crutch. It is very common for people experiencing mood disorders to consume too much alcohol.
Alcohol is essentially a toxin that our body needs to break down rapidly into safer compounds for excretion. This process heavily depletes nutrients we have stored in our body, especially B vitamins (particularly folate) and the mineral zinc.
Zinc & folate both play a vital role in the regulation of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin (contentment) and dopamine (motivation). Zinc is also involved in how well neurotransmitters are responded to by their receptors. Therefore, the more alcohol you consume, the more depleted in these nutrients you may become, and the more likely you may experience dysregulated mood.
There is no safe alcohol limit but the current UK guidance for both men and women is to consume no more than 14 units per week.
Excessive sugar consumption is highly implicated in poor mental health.
Although sugar (aka glucose) is the primary fuel for your brain, it requires a constant and steady supply to function correctly, and this is interrupted when sugary foods are eaten. This is because your body finds sugary foods very easy to digest and consequently sugar arrives in your blood too rapidly, creating an erratic supply that can send your brain into anxious mode.
Research is also emerging that excess sugar consumption can directly drive depression. This might be because it promotes invisible inflammation in your body, which shunts the serotonin synthesis pathway in a different direction, exacerbating low levels and contributing to low mood.
You can read more about blood sugar and mental health in my previous blog Optimum Mental Health Step 3: REBALANCE
Researchers are still debating whether caffeine has a positive or adverse impact on health, and the results of scientific research are not completely clear.
However, some people are much more sensitive to caffeine than others, and caffeine has been shown to prolong the stress response, making it not a good choice during anxious episodes.
It can also interfere with sleep and because poor sleep is strongly associated with depression, it also makes sense to limit caffeine intake, especially after lunchtime, and particularly when you’re experiencing low mood.
Don’t forget that caffeine is not just found in coffee, but is also present in tea, soft drinks (e.g. Coke, Pepsi & Red Bull), and chocolate.
4. Saturated Fats
It is well documented that individuals experiencing mood dysregulation often consume higher amounts of foods containing saturated fats however, this can perpetuate depression.
Saturated fats promote inflammation in the body which can interfere with the production of neurotransmitters, negatively affecting mood.
Eating too much saturated fat can also change the environment in your gut, promoting unfriendly bacteria to proliferate and crowd out more beneficial species. An out-of-balance gut microbiome composition is increasingly being linked with mood dysregulation because of the ability of gut bacteria to send messages to the brain (known as the gut-brain axis).
5. Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, are much sweeter than their sugar counterparts and are commonly found in diet drinks and low-fat foods, such as yoghurts and sauces.
Upon consumption, artificial sweeteners can be absorbed quickly into the blood stream and travel to the brain. Evidence is accumulating that they can have a detrimental effect on depression and anxiety.
Research has shown that sweeteners & their metabolites can interfere with neurotransmitter production, such as serotonin and dopamine, and therefore affect low mood. They can also promote a stress response, promoting the production of cortisol (a stress hormone) and driving inflammation, which can contribute to anxiety.
I hope that was helpful!
I specialise in personalised & evidence-based one-to-one programmes that focus on identifying the root causes of low mood & anxiety, pulling together the nutrition and lifestyle changes that make a HUGE difference – helping you feel calmer, happier, and more optimistic. If you would like to discuss your options send me a message or book a free call with me and I’d be delighted to help you.