Food To Support Mood: Three Tips From Psychologist Dr Aria

The food we choose has been shown to influence the way we feel, so we’ve teamed up with leading clinical psychologist Dr Aria to bring you tips on what to eat to sustain energy and mood.

As Dr Aria explains; “What we eat and how we feel are closely linked: research analysis combining data from over 45,000 participants found that eating more nutrient-dense, fibre-rich foods has positive effects on your mood and mental health[1]”.

  1. Choose Snacks that Sustain Your Energy and Mood.

When you’re tired, hungry or in a rush, people often fall into the trap of grabbing a sugary treat to keep their energy and mood levels up. However, research shows that consuming high-sugar snacks increases energy levels initially, but then leads to increased tiredness and reduced energy after an hour. A handful of walnuts are a superb science-based, nutrient-dense snack to leave you feeling satisfied, sustain your energy, and improve your mood. Walnuts are the only tree nut to contain a significant amount of the plant-based omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), 2.7g/ 30g – an essential plant-based fatty acid that must come from food as the body cannot make it, and one handful[2] offers 4.4g of protein and 1.4g of fibre[3].Studies have also linked walnut consumption to benefits for cognitive health, heart health, diabetes and weight loss.

  1. Improve Your Mood with a Healthier Gut

Cutting edge research is revealing more about the link between the gut and the brain. The gut is sometimes referred to as the “second brain,” since it contains nerve cells that produce neurochemicals. It’s estimated that 90-95% of the body’s serotonin is in the gut. Serotonin is a chemical that your body produces and that regulates mood. Normal serotonin levels are linked to feeling happier, calmer, less anxious and more emotionally stable.

You can cultivate a diverse range of “friendly” bacteria in your gut by eating more prebiotics and probiotics. Probiotics are the live bacteria and yeasts that are helpful because they keep your gut healthy. Dietary sources include yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, Kombucha and pickles. Prebiotics are types of dietary fibre that feed the good bacteria in your gut.[4]

Recent research has found that consuming walnuts can lead to beneficial changes in the gut microbiota: a 2018 study in healthy adults found that eating walnuts resulted in an increase in gut bacteria thought to be beneficial for health [5]Scientists have also found that consuming a walnut enriched diet positively impacted the gut microbiome by enhancing good probiotic and butyric acid producing bacteria in healthy individuals. Butyric acid is thought to be useful for digestive health by helping to maintain the health of the colon[6].

  1. Be careful with low-carb diets

Several scientific studies have indicated that very low carbohydrate levels may have a negative effect on your mood. Several factors could drive this association, including the fact that a carbohydrate-rich pattern of eating can boost levels of serotonin in the brain. Very low-carb diets can also be very challenging to maintain, as most people’s diets contain bread, pasta, or rice.

Rather than banning carbs from your diet, in order to improve your mental and physical wellbeing, focus on improving the types of carbohydrates that you eat. For instance, through eating less processed carbs (e.g. sugary breakfast cereals, white bread, cakes, crisps, sugary drinks) and more whole grains (e.g. brown rice, whole wheat, rye, quinoa, oats, buckwheat), vegetables (e.g. sweet potato, beetroot, corn), fruit (e.g. bananas, apples, mango), tree nuts (e.g. walnuts), and legumes (e.g. kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils). Nature has an innate wisdom: less processed natural foods are also an excellent source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

[1] Firth, J., Marx, W., Dash, S., Carney, R., Teasdale, S. B., Solmi, M., … & Sarris, J. (2019). The effects of dietary improvement on symptoms of depression and anxiety: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Psychosomatic medicine, 81(3), 265.
[2] Approx. 30g
[3] Food Standards Agency (2002), McCance & Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods, Seventh summary edition. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry
[4] Terry, N., & Margolis, K. G. (2016). Serotonergic mechanisms regulating the GI tract: experimental evidence and therapeutic relevance. In Gastrointestinal Pharmacology (pp. 319-342). Springer, Cham.
Jenkins, T. A., Nguyen, J. C., Polglaze, K. E., & Bertrand, P. P. (2016). Influence of tryptophan and serotonin on mood and cognition with a possible role of the gut-brain axis. Nutrients, 8(1), 56.
Markowiak, P., & Śliżewska, K. (2017). Effects of probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics on human health. Nutrients, 9(9), 1021.
[5]  Holscher HD, Guetterman HM, Swanson KS, An R, Matthan NR, Lichtenstein AH, Novotny JA, Baer DJ. Walnut consumption alters the gastrointestinal microbiota, microbially derived secondary bile acids, and health markers in healthy adults: a randomized controlled trial.  J Nutr. 2018 May 3. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxy004. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxy004
[6]  Bamberger C, Rossmeier A, Lechner K, Wu L, Waldmann E, Fischer S, Stark RG, Altenhofer J, Henze K, Parhofer KG. A walnut-enriched diet affects gut microbiome in healthy Caucasian subjects: A randomized, controlled trial. Nutrients. 2018 Feb 22; 10(2). pii: E244. doi: 10.3390/nu10020244