We are – literally – what we eat. Our bodies are made from food. And we all know good food boosts our bodies, and bad food takes its toll. But what about our minds? What about mood and food?
Ever been hangry? Not a lovely word but it nails how grumpy we get when we’re hungry. And there’s some sound science behind it. When we’re hungry our blood sugar dips, and our body responds by releasing hormones – cortisol and epinephrine. And they are well known for making us irritable. Although we are all different – some of us get grumpier quicker than others – there is a straightforward relationship: the lower our blood sugar, the grimmer we get.
Boom and bust
There’s a risk that when we’re hangry we reach for junk: crisps, sweets, chocolate – anything for a quick fix. Trouble is, what goes up must come down: after the spike comes the crash. And chances are we’ll reach for more snacks. Our mood yo-yos and we cram in the calories. And remember – a lot of processed food is designed to give a quick hit to cravings. They max out on immediate reward – and if they leave you reaching for more an hour later, so much the better for their bottom line – but not for yours.
Those good people over at the mental health charity Mind know a thing or two about mood. And they’ve got some handy tips:
- Don’t skip breakfast – it really does set you up for the day
- Watch your alcohol intake – nobody likes the booze blues
- Large lunches, big dinners – they can make you feel sluggish, so consider spacing out smaller portions of healthy food during the day
- Get your five a day: fruit and veg – be it tinned, frozen or fresh
- Make sure you get some lean protein: fish, pulses, lean meat, eggs – amino acids are essential for a healthy brain.
Water water everywhere
Don’t drink enough and your concentration slips – along with your mood. So stay hydrated: water is great – and free – but juices, teas and infusions can all help you get those 6-8 glasses a day.
Mind your caffeine
When we’re tired and irritable, we’ll often reach for a coffee – a hot shot to pick us up. But caffeine is a serious stimulant, so treat it with respect. A bit like junk food, it can give you a boost, but beware the crash. It can also make you anxious, wreck your sleep and tip you into black moods.
Get your vits
Eating good regular meals is essential for your mood. According to the British Dietetic Association, some of this might be linked to vitamins. Lack of iron can lead to fatigue and burnout. Lack of B vits is linked to depression and irritability. Folate can fight depression – particularly in the elderly, as can selenium.
Good old gut
Gut feeling. It’s a phrase as old as the hills. But there’s more and more scientific evidence that mental health and gut health are linked. Low moods, anxiety – they can all affect our stomachs. So look after your gut: eat plenty of fibre, and stay hydrated. And eat good stuff: fruit, veg, pulses, yoghurts. And take exercise: it keeps everything moving inside.
Good mood food
Here’s a lovely light recipe to give your mood a boost:
Salmon with rocket, avocado and asparagus
- 2 garlic cloves chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary chopped
- Juice of a lemon
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 pieces salmon – 100g
- Diced avocado
- Two handfuls rocket
- Bunch asparagus – 200g
Blanche the asparagus. Mix the garlic, rosemary, half the lemon juice, 2tbsp olive oil with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Rub it over the flesh side of the salmon and bake, skin-down until cooked – 5-8 mins. Whisk the remaining juice and oil, season, then toss with the rocket, avocado and chopped asparagus. Divide the salad and top with the salmon. Enjoy.