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How are Food and Mood Linked?

Did you know? The food we eat doesn’t just fuel our bodies—it also plays a crucial role in how we feel. It’s important to consider that the choices we make at mealtime can significantly impact our mood and overall mental wellbeing. From the nutrients in our food to the way we digest it. Read on to find out more. 

Stress and Wellbeing

Stress is a powerful force that affects many aspects of our lives. It can disrupt our digestion, interfere with sleep patterns, and even alter our mood. When we’re stressed, our bodies react in a way that prepares us for a fight-or-flight response, which is great for short-term emergencies but can cause problems if we’re constantly in this state.

Chronic stress can lead to digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and it can also disturb our sleep, making us feel tired and more prone to anxiety and depression. However, there’s good news. By opting for wholesome, unprocessed foods and incorporating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, we can help mitigate these stress-induced issues.

The Importance of Whole Foods

Whole foods are those that are unprocessed or minimally processed, preserving as many nutrients as possible. Think of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins. These foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that nourish our bodies and minds.

  1. Fruits and Vegetables: Rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibre, they support overall health. For instance, leafy greens like spinach and kale are high in magnesium, which can help regulate emotions and reduce anxiety
  2. Whole Grains: Foods like oats, brown rice, and quinoa provide a steady release of energy, preventing blood sugar spikes that can lead to mood swings and irritability. They also promote the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps stabilise mood
  3. Lean Proteins: Proteins from sources like fish, chicken, tofu, and legumes provide amino acids, the building blocks of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which play a key role in mood regulation.
  4. Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety 

The Gut-Brain Connection

Our gut is often referred to as our “second brain” for a reason. The gut-brain axis is a complex communication network linking our central nervous system and our gastrointestinal tract. This connection means that our digestive health can directly affect our mental health.

A healthy gut microbiome, which is influenced by our diet, plays a crucial role in this communication. Foods rich in fibre, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. These bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids and other metabolites that can reduce inflammation and improve mood. 

Fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi are also excellent for gut health.

Our ‘Gut-loving kitchen’ in partnership with The Gut Stuff is a great example of this type of diet. We’re creating customer-driven food menus that are good for the gut and help to educate on the importance of choosing food that positively supports our customers’ gut health.

Tips for a Mood-Boosting Diet

To engage our customers and clients on this topic, our dietetics team recently hosted an engaging lunchtime event at one of our higher education sites, highlighting the connection between food and mood. Our chefs prepared nutritionally balanced samples, featuring a delicious labneh, citrus, and toasted grain pot, perfect for fueling up before exams and maintaining peak energy levels. Here are some key takeaways from the event:

  • Incorporate More Plants: Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits at each meal
  • Choose Whole Grains: Swap refined grains for their whole counterparts, like brown rice instead of white rice
  • Include Lean Proteins: Add a variety of protein sources to your diet, focusing on those rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Snack on Nuts and Seeds: Keep a mix of nuts and seeds on hand for a nutritious, mood-boosting snack
  • Eat Fermented Foods: Add a serving of yoghurt, kefir, or fermented vegetables to your daily routine

Interested in learning more about our commitment to quality and nutritious dining experiences? Contact us today!