Do you ever notice that you feel sad and gloomy after eating certain types of food?
It might not just be in your imagination!
Research suggests that a diet based on whole grains, lean protein and plenty of fruits and vegetables lifts the mood and helps avoid depression. And there seems to be a link between eating too much "junk" or highly processed food and feeling sad.
But intriguing evidence is emerging that for some people, specific foods can affect their mental well-being. So which are the foods to avoid - and which ones should you eat to improve your mood?
Many people notice that their mood improves when they cut out processed foods. Because there are so many different ingredients in processed food, it's hard to identify which ones affect your mood.
Trans fats, sometimes known as partially hydrated oils, are high on the list of suspect ingredients. They are found in some biscuits, pastries and cakes. Emulsifiers included in some processed products are also believed to have a detrimental effect on the gut.
Avoiding heavily processed foods and eating more whole foods will improve your gut health; your gut is sometimes called your second brain, and good gut health is linked to good mental health. So if you're feeling dejected, cutting out processed foods could help you to feel happier.
When we eat sugar regularly, our gut lining can be damaged and become "leaky", allowing some molecules to pass through the walls of the gut into the blood. This causes inflammation in the body. While scientists still do not fully understand the link, inflammation increases the risk of depression.
We often turn to sweet, sugary foods when we're feeling low or need a quick pick-me-up. But the energy provided by a sugar rush doesn't last long, and a few hours later, you find yourself starting to flag. Both low and high blood sugar levels can have a negative impact on your mood. So if you often find yourself feeling tired and "hangry", try eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day and reduce the sugar you consume.
Many people report that they suffer from symptoms ranging from headaches and bad dreams to skin rashes after eating foods containing monosodium glutamate or MSG, a flavour enhancer. However, scientific testing has uncovered no evidence to support these beliefs.
It's impossible to exclude sensitivity to MSG in some people. Still, these symptoms could equally be caused by other ingredients in the dish, such as spices, high levels of fat, or just because you've eaten a too-generous portion. When your gut's unhappy because you've overindulged, it's sure to let you know!
People who have coeliac disease are intolerant to gluten, a substance found in bread, cakes and a host of other products containing wheat flour. If they eat foods containing gluten, they risk symptoms such as nausea, diarrhoea, fatigue and pain. While around 1 in 70 people is coeliac, many believe they are sensitive to gluten without being diagnosed.
They say that gluten makes them unwell both physically and mentally, causing anxiety, bad moods and depression. But so far, there's little scientific evidence to support the belief that gluten can make non-coeliacs unwell. When people feel better after avoiding gluten, it could be that they've also replaced processed products with healthier foods and generally adopted a healthier lifestyle.
Now you know which foods might make you feel sad, it's good to know that there are plenty of foods to eat that will help lift your mood. The following foods are rich in nutrients that boost your body's production of the "happy hormones": dopamine and serotonin.
Chocolate's mood-boosting power is thanks to phenylethylamine, the chemical that is responsible for that walking-on-air feeling you get when you're in love. It also contains tryptophan, a substance that triggers the body's production of serotonin. Dark chocolate is more nutritious than milk chocolate as it contains other valuable minerals such as magnesium, potassium and zinc. Don't overdo it though, a few squares a day are plenty!
Other foods to choose from include:
If you're feeling gloomy and depressed, Bach Flower Mix 65 is formulated with pure flower essences to help banish dark clouds, improve your sleep and help you feel happier. Rather than focussing on particular foods, most dietitians recommend eating a balanced, healthy diet. And if you find yourself "crashing" and reaching for sugary snacks, try eating "little and often" to stabilise your blood sugar levels.
Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety affect around 1 in 6 people at some stage of their life. Despite it being such a common problem, many sufferers wait months or even years before seeking help.
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