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The Link Between Food, Mood and Anxiety

We’ve always been aware of how food affects our body, but a new field of nutritional psychiatry has a different way of looking at things.


Dr. Uma Naidoo, a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef and author is a pioneer in the field of nutritional psychiatry, a growing specialty that’s been exploring how even small dietary changes can have a measurable impact on mental health.

For example, just by making changes like cutting back on processed foods and adding more greens, lean protein and healthy fats to your meals, you could begin to make a positive impact on your own mental health.

Did you know you mind and gut communicate?

This is backed up by Dr. Wolfgang Marx, a senior research fellow at the Food and Mood Centre at Australia’s Deakin University and President of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research who says there is now enough data to support the hypothesis that a healthy diet can improve our mood.

There are also several observational studies that show a variety of healthy dietary patterns, particularly the Mediterranean diet, is associated with a reduced risk of depression, while high intakes of ultra-processed foods or diets that are ′pro inflammatory’ are associated with an increased risk of depression.

These findings are based on a growing understanding about what’s called the gut-brain axis, a term that highlights the role that a well-nourished gut can play in regulating your mood

Dr Naldo further says: “Information from the foods we eat is communicated to our brain and impacts our overall mental health. More than 90% of the receptors for the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for mood and cognition, are in the gut, highlighting just how powerful this food-mood connection is.”

5 key mood boosting foods

You need to think rainbow for the best choices so you are picking a variety of colours in both fruit and vegetables. It is clear that a healthy diet is associated with positive mental health.

However, diets higher in processed, sugary foods are associated with symptoms of poor mental health, such as depression and anxiety.

 No 1 is salmon

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in clinical trails to improve depressive symptoms and good sources include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, along with walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds.

No 2 are complex carbs

These foods provide a steady release of glucose, which is essential for brain function. They also stimulate the production of serotonin, promoting a sense of calmness and well-being.

You need to be eating whole grains, peas, beans and lentils as well  as starchy vegetables such as potatoes, peas and lentils.

No 3 is fruit and veg  

These are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that support overall health, including brain health.  Aim for a colourful variety to ensure a wide range of nutrients.

No 4 is tryptophan 

This is an amino acid precursor to serotonin and found in turkey, chicken, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds.

Combining those tryptophan-rich foods with carbohydrates can enhance the production of serotonin.

No 5 are probiotics

These promote healthy gut microbiota, which can positively impact mood and a study in the journal Psychiatry Research suggested a link between probiotic foods and a lowering of social anxiety.

Eating probiotic-rich foods such as natural yoghurt, pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, tempeh, kimchi, kefir, sourdough bread and some cheeses are also linked to fewer symptoms.

Helpful information

There are several key factors when dealing with anxiety: first, you need to get your hormones back in balance, secondly deal with any stress as that will only make your anxiety and any hormonal symptoms worse, and thirdly take a good look at your diet.

The key is to find a diet that supports your moods and that you will be able to maintain, and the Mediterranean one comes out top overall.

It is also clear from the reports here that having a healthy gut balance is also going to make a major difference.

By using a good probiotic and eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains as outlined above, you could see good results fairly quickly.

Studies have shown that the gut microbiota can react dramatically to changes in eating habits in less than three days, but of course it is individual and that can vary.

Unfortunately, most of us have a few “unsuitable“ items in our diet, so if you’d like some help identifying what it would be helpful to give up then following article will be useful.