Editorial / Health & Wellbeing

The Link Between Food and Mood 

In the busyness of daily life, it’s all too easy to neglect our diet. Amidst back-to-back meetings, household chores, school pick-up and appointments, many of us trade freshness for convenience and nutrition for comfort, without truly realising the impact our food choices and eating habits can have on our overall well being. 

In fact, though most of us understand how food impacts our bodies and physical health, far fewer understand the powerful impact on our mental health. 

The reality is, our nutritional choices affect both our physical and mental wellbeing, including our moods and emotional state, cognitive ability, and overall mental performance. From the highs of mental clarity and productivity to the lows of anxiety and depression, our dietary choices wield strong influence.

Years of research in nutrition science has shed light on the relationship between what we eat and how we think, feel, and function cognitively. Certain foods have been identified as mood enhancers, contributing to mental clarity and improved cognitive abilities. Conversely, indulging in processed junk food is more likely than not to result in feelings of lethargy, low mood, and mental fog, impeding our ability to think clearly and tackle tasks effectively. 

Research also points consistently to the perhaps surprising link between our brain and our gut, driven by what is known as the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis is a bi-directional communication network between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain, involving multiple pathways, including neural (i.e., vagus nerve), immune, and endocrine mechanisms. 

The gut microbiome plays a crucial role here, influencing mood and brain function through the production of neurotransmitters—e.g., serotonin and dopamine—short-chain fatty acids, and the modulation of inflammation. Imbalances in gut microbiome have been associated with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and stress. In other words, these powerful chemical messengers which regulate mood and brain function are deeply influenced by the foods we consume. 

Incorporating brain-boosting foods into our diet—such as oily fish, berries, eggs, and dark chocolate—is vital. These foods are rich in essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which support optimal brain function. Conversely, a diet lacking in these nutrients can lead to fatigue, irritability, decreased energy levels, heightened stress, and impaired cognitive function.

Adopting mindful eating habits that prioritise nutrient-dense foods is paramount for nurturing both our physical and mental health. By fuelling our bodies with the right nutrients, we can support optimal brain function and overall well-being.

Here are some tips for maintaining good nutrition:

  1. Get back to basics: Avoid processed foods and artificial sweeteners, opting for a wider variety of vegetables and healthy fats, like nuts and avocado. Keep healthy snacks readily available to maintain stable glucose levels throughout the day.
  2. Don’t skip breakfast: Start the day right with a nutritious breakfast to improve mental performance and reduce anxiety. If you’re short on time in the mornings, opt for something quick and nutritious like Greek yoghourt with nuts and berries, or hard-boiled eggs—which can be cooked the night before and stored in the fridge. 
  3. Boost brain food: Incorporate foods rich in vitamin D, such as fatty fish and eggs, to improve mood and cognitive function. Increase your intake of vegetables, rice, and whole grains to support memory function.
  4. Pick up protein: Tyrosine—found in foods like tofu, tuna, and yoghourt—supports alertness and keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Avoid high-protein meals for dinner to prevent disruptions in sleep patterns.
  5. Bring nutrition to the workplace: Encourage healthy habits among colleagues to create a supportive environment. If going out for lunch together, suggest a healthier option, or if bringing snacks to share, be sure to avoid processed, high salt or high sugar options. Working together towards better health can increase accountability and motivation.
  6. Eat regular, small meals: Timing is crucial for stable glucose levels, which impact attention and focus. Incorporate two to three snacks between meals, and stock the office with nutritious options.

As research continues to unravel the complexities of the relationship between food and mood, it becomes increasingly clear that what we put on our plates can profoundly impact not only our bodies but our minds. 

By recognising the interplay between food and mood, and adopting mindful eating habits, we have the power to shape our mental and physical wellbeing for good. Embracing a diet rich in brain-boosting foods and fostering a healthy relationship with food is not just a prescription for physical health but a pathway to greater overall wellbeing and a more balanced life.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.