Most people can identify a time in their life where they have struggled with mental health issues on some level.
From daily stress and anxiety to much larger and more impactful issues - we all need to be looking at daily practices that can help us all maintain and positively influence our mental health and state of mind.
The most common treatments suggested for treating mental health issues are usually pharmaceutical drugs or face-to-face therapy, however, there is a lot you can often do yourself to help your situation as well.
The effect that regular exercise, quality diet changes, restful sleep and practising mindfulness habits can have on improving your situation can't be underestimated.
Read on below as we run you through a number of easy changes and key ideas you can use to positively affect your mental health immediately!
- How Does Nutrition Affect Mental Health?
- What Foods Lift Your Mood?
- How Can I Improve My Mood Naturally?
- Why Does Food Make You Happy?
How Does Nutrition Affect Mental Health?
Even before you are born, the nutrition you receive can affect your brain function.
Believe it or not, studies indicate that what your mother eats while you are in the womb can influence and impact how your body processes food and what your typical diet may look like in the future!
This idea falls within a relatively young field of study called 'nutritional psychiatry' that focuses on the use of food and supplements to provide these essential nutrients as part of an integrated or alternative treatment for mental health disorders.
One of the major chemicals studied in the field of nutritional psychiatry is serotonin. Serotonin is almost entirely produced in your gastrointestinal tract and has a huge role to play in mood regulation, appetite, memory function and healthy sleep.
This shows that your gastrointestinal tract isn’t just good for absorbing nutrients from the food you eat, but also plays a pivotal role in guiding and shaping your emotions, responses and food choices!
Healthy serotonin production relies on good gut bacteria and a healthy gut biome, so it's important to eat a diverse and 'gut-friendly' diet generally rich in vegetables, good fats, protein, fibre and other key vitamins & minerals.
Read on below and we will take you through some of the best foods for lifting your spirits and helping to regulate mood!
What Foods Lift Your Mood?
If you are looking to start eating food that is known to have beneficial effects on your mood, it can be difficult to know how to begin!
Many well-known diets such as the Mediterranean or traditional Japanese diet that are rich in 'good mood foods' can be a good place to start, but there are many different ways you can eat to improve your mood outside of these diet styles.
However you choose to eat, it's important to make sure you choose a diet of non-processed whole foods rich in protein, fibre, fats, vitamins & minerals that contribute to good gut health, brain health and overall wellbeing.
Here are some of the most well-researched and evidence-backed foods that can help produce positive mood effects!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are vital to your overall health and wellbeing, and can't be produced in the body so need to be eaten!
Omega-3 can be found in rich quantities in oily fish like salmon, or in seeds such as flax seeds and chia seeds.
These are great foods to eat regularly, or you can even take them as a concentrated oil supplement.
Here is a list of some great healthy foods that are naturally high in Omega-3:
- Fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, albacore tuna, and anchovies
- Flax seeds and chia seeds
- Hemp seeds and protein powder
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your gut health and digestive system.
Since your gastrointestinal tract is responsible for over 90% of serotonin production, it’s important to make sure you are consistently eating probiotic-rich foods to help maintain a healthy gut biome.
Common foods rich in probiotics and healthy bacteria include:
- Kimchi and sauerkraut
- Pickled vegetables
Nuts, Seeds, Grains and Legumes
Nuts, seeds, grains and legumes all contain many different compounds that are beneficial to your mind and overall health.
Legumes such as beans and lentils are packed full of nutrients, vitamins and plant-based protein that all contribute to brain function. They can easily be used in many different healthy recipes and meals such as soups, salads or snacks, making them easy add-ins to your diet.
When it comes to grains, reach for whole grains instead of processed grains. Whole grains are full of B-vitamins too and you can get a healthy dose with just one serving. Oats, a popular and delicious whole grain, can be used for a variety of breakfast ideas such as oatmeal, overnight oats, and granola. Other whole grains you can use are quinoa, wild rice, millet, brown rice, and amaranth.
Nuts and seeds are small but packed with fibre, healthy fats and many nutrients. Many nuts and seeds also provide tryptophan which is an amino acid known for helping your body make serotonin!
Eat Your Greens!
Green vegetables are an essential part of any good diet. Most contain vitamin B9 (folate) that is known to have a connection with treating depression and improving mood. Those who lack folate have also been linked to serotonin and dopamine deficiencies. It can be hard to eat enough green vegetables to hit these nutritional marks - it's often worth including a high-quality greens powder into your diet as well.
Fruit & Chocolate
It's no surprise that fruit and chocolate are 'good mood food', most people can identify feeling 'better' after a bowl of blueberries or a chunk of dark chocolate. Both fruit and chocolate provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals and key nutrients required for mood stimulation.
Just be careful with your sugar consumption and make sure you're going for high-quality dark chocolate (not choc-chip cookies!)
How Can I Improve My Mood Naturally?
Aside from dialling in your diet, there are a number of easy habits and lifestyle factors you can consider that can have a large impact on improving your mood!
Here are some great tips for helping to improve your mood naturally:
Exercise is widely known as one of the best ways to lift your spirits and boost your overall wellbeing.
Science has shown that undertaking moderate-intensity exercise up to 30 minutes per day not only increases natural serotonin levels, but also a number of other 'feel-good' chemicals in the body responsible for elevating mood such as endorphins and important brain health chemicals such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
People with a regular exercise routine generally show lower levels of anxiety and depression, while also experiencing fewer lows and performance issues.
There are many different natural products available that work directly on improving brain health and assisting with anxiety/depression issues. These substances that help stimulate the brain are often called 'nootropics' and can include things such as lion's mane mushroom and specialty blends such as 'neural nectar'.
Nootropics can help reduce inflammation and produce important chemicals that improve brain health, longevity and function.
Limit Caffeine Intake
I'm an avid coffee drinker and even I have to admit - when I have one cup too many, my anxiety levels can skyrocket.
Caffeine (found in coffee, matcha and other foods) is a stimulant that can trigger the 'flight or fight' response if you're already prone to anxiety or panic attacks.
If you've noticed that you get the jitters quite easy after a cup, try cutting it out of your diet for a few weeks and note the difference.
Why Does Food Make You Happy?
Food can make us happy for many different reasons!
As we've talked about, certain healthy foods rich in compounds such as omega-3, probiotics and vitamin B promote the production of serotonin in the gut which is a key happy chemical.
Happy food or good mood food contributes to processes in the body that work holistically to improve mood and wellbeing - this isn't to be confused with comfort food.
Comfort foods are typically those that produce chemical spikes in the body and often remind us of good memories such as cake, ice-cream and pasta.
Don't get me wrong, these have their place as a type of happy food, but are often high in sugar and bad fats that can ultimately lead to worse health problems and mental health decline in the long run. Don't avoid completely - but eat in moderation!
Food and eating is something we all have in common - and your diet can have huge impacts on your mental health.
Getting your diet right is crucial to feeling good and making better choices, and there are many other things you can also control such as exercise and sleep that all play into improving a hard situation.
That being said - no matter whether you're suffering from chronic issues, or just struggling to stay positive - it can always help to talk to a professional and get some scientifically-proven methods to help.
There is likely a great therapist or counsellor in your local area, or, if you live remotely or would just prefer to do it online there are many great e-resources available now such as BetterHelp.