Can what we eat really affect the way we feel?
The link between the mood we find ourselves in and what we decide to eat has long been known. When we are feeling down and unhappy we frequently turn to food – classic comfort eating. When we are happy we will often celebrate with food. And sometimes when we are plain bored we rummage in the freezer for a tub of ice cream just for something sweet and naughty…
Now that ‘mood to food’ connection is being examined from the other angle: ‘food to mood’. Does our choice of food have an impact on our state of mind? There is increasing interest in this question, although so far most of the research is anecdotal and subjective rather than scientific.
 A recent ‘Food and Mood’ survey backed by a major mental health charity revealed that 88% of the people they spoke to said they felt that their mood had been directly, and positively, affected by adjusting the food they ate.
The survey split foods into those they described as ‘stressors’ to cut back on – for example caffeine, alcohol and sugar – and those which were ‘supporters’ of a good sense of well-being: vegetables, fruit, oil-rich fish and water. Over a quarter of the people surveyed reported that adjusting their diet in this way had reduced or even eradicated their mood swings. anxiety and panic attacks.
Convenience foods and foods with a high sugar content often create a sudden peak in energy followed by a crash. You might want to avoid the down feeling that follows a sugar rush. Balancing those high GI foods with lower GI foods with a slower sugar release can help create a more positive and even energy level.
Certain foods contain vitamins, minerals and enzymes that can boost your positive mood. Walnuts and sunflower seeds are rich in zinc, Omega 3 and magnesium: various reports have suggested that zinc makes a positive contribution to supporting your memory and that Omega 3 may help reduce the chance of bipolar depression, whilst magnesium deficiency can lead to restlessness and lack of attention. Those key nutrients can also be boosted by careful use of nutritional supplements.
Reducing alcohol intake and increasing the amount of water you drink can have a significant impact, not just on your overall health but on your mood: alcohol tends to have a depressant effect after the initial high.
If we think about the way we feel emotionally as we head for the fridge or turn down the snacks aisle when we are shopping, we might decide to convert that craving into an alternative option: perhaps deciding to exercise for 20 minutes if we ever find ourselves at a loose end.
Just taking that decision can have a beneficial impact on your state of mind, and moving towards a more balanced diet with help you feel better, sleep better, handle stress more successfully.
Finally, what about chocolate? It was listed in the Food and Mood survey as a ‘stressor’, but of course it also does make us feel good, something about the entire experience, the taste, aroma and texture combines to give us a positive feeling, just so long as we don’t overdo it, of course…
 BBC news: how food benefits mood