While feelings of uncertainty and anxiousness are not uncommon this year, it’s important to develop healthy strategies to cope with these feelings. With so many people not realising how much our daily eating patterns can impact our mental state and mood, it is more important than ever before that we are making the right food choices to help get us through the next few weeks.
Food can either fuel our body and mind with essential nutrients to optimise health and productivity, or it can be used as an unhealthy coping method, also known as ‘stress eating.’
For those feeling a little uneasy about the latest government restrictions, fear not, as we have caught up with F45 Nutritionist, Kim Bowman, who offers her expert advice on how you can create a positive support system and lifestyle routine that benefits your overall mood and health.
Stress-Eating vs. Mood Boosting Foods
When we experience a stressful period in our life or have heightened feelings of uncertainty, it’s not uncommon to have cravings for sugary sweets, crisps, or snacks that make us ‘feel good.’ Why? These foods activate the brain’s reward system and our feel-good hormone ‘dopamine’ to make us feel happy. They also peak our blood sugar, making us feel more energised. However, this temporary comfort does not last long, as these highly processed sweet snacks rapidly metabolise, causing our blood sugar, mood, and overall energy to plummet (aka ‘sugar crash’). Foods high in sugar and/or trans-fat have undergone a significant amount of processing, which means many of their essential nutrients are removed. While yes, sugary sweets and snacks may provide a short-term sense of relief, they can lead to an addictive eating pattern that provides no long-term health improvement, especially for our mood.
Therefore, the key to positively boosting and enhancing mental state is to focus on consuming nutrient-dense, quality foods, daily. Whole foods such as healthy non-processed carbohydrates, including fruits, veggies, and whole grains, along with healthy fats and protein sources, will promote balance within the body. Specifically, foods in their natural state contain many vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants, which are extremely important in lowering inflammation and ridding the body of toxins. Quality foods will also benefit our gut health, which plays a crucial role in optimising our overall mood as there are many neural connections between the brain and the gut. For example, serotonin is a key neurotransmitter produced in the digestive system that largely impacts how we feel daily. Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome through quality food consumption is essential to ensure these connections are functioning effectively to optimise mood.
What Are The Best Mood-Boosting Foods?
The research has emphasised the benefits of adopting a Mediterranean style eating pattern for boosting brain health and mental state. This includes, unprocessed grains, plenty of fruits and veggies, beans, along with quality fats from plant-based oils (olive, avocado), and fatty fish including salmon or tuna. For optimal gut health, adding fermented foods will promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome, including sauerkraut, miso, and unsweetened Greek yogurt. Lastly, while refined sugar can be challenging to cut out, it’s best replaced by natural sweeteners, including raw organic honey, fresh fruit, or dates.