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Home / Health & Wellbeing / Mind Your Mind: Food and mood

Mind Your Mind: Food and mood

What we eat affects our mood more than we realise. With colder days and shorter evenings, we’re less likely to eat wholesome foods, and more likely over-indulge. However, plenty of research suggests that certain foods boost our moods, and with the miserable Irish winter on the way, we could do with the lift.


Avocados may be seen as an internet fad with Instagram being spammed with avocado toast, but the fruit is full of healthy fats and can boost your mood. The serotonin in avocadoes produces feel-good chemicals in your brain and the potassium content stabilises mood. They’re also extremely versatile so can be added to your diet in different way, so if you don’t like avocados in their natural form, you can still find a recipe you like. For savoury cravings, avocado toast seasoned with salt and pepper should hit the spot; it can also be tossed into a salad for light meals, or made into a guilt free chocolate mousse.

Research suggests that bananas contain dopamine which is a reward chemical. As a result, we feel our mood lift afterwards. The Vitamin B6 content in bananas is also said to help fight depression. All of this doesn’t come as much as a surprise, as the bright yellow fruit is even shaped like a smile. Bananas can be enjoyed alone as a snack, added to smoothies, or diced over breakfast.

Chocolate is one of the most popular comfort foods, and the one we reach for the most. While eating chocolate can release endorphins and serotonin, this doesn’t mean that we get to go over-board and inhale a tin of Roses. To reap the benefits, dark chocolate is recommended as it usually has more cocoa and less added sugar than milk chocolate.

However, serving sizes should also be kept to a few squares. Dark chocolate can be enjoyed alone, sprinkled into smoothies, or melted and enjoyed with strawberries and other fruit.

There’s a good reason carbs are a comfort food – oats and similar food release their energy slowly which means that our blood sugar and energy is going to be more stable than sugary foods which release their energy all at once and lead to a crash.
Research also suggests that the healthy carbohydrates in oats stimulate the production of serotonin which as a happy chemical makes us feel good. You’ll definitely appreciate a warm hearty breakfast of porridge during the winter months, or if you’re not a fan of porridge, a handful of oats can be used to bulk up a smoothie.

Oily Fish
We associate fatty foods and oils with weight gain and poor health, but we actually need some level of fats in our diets to be healthy. Fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines are rich with the fatty acid Omega- 3. With studies revealing that Omega-3 deficiency is a cause for mood and brain disorders, the fatty acid is necessary for brain health and mood-stability. Having salmon for dinner or a tuna sandwich for lunch a few times a week is an easy way to get more Omega-3 in your diet.

The spice is commonly used in meals such as Paella to create the yellow colour of the rice, but tests show that saffron can have a similar effect to anti-depressants on mood. Although the spice is more expensive than others, for those wishing to achieve a natural boost the spice is perfect as it does not have a strong taste, and therefore does not drastically alter meals. Saffron can be ground into rice dishes and you’ll hardly notice its presence but should feel the benefits.

While there are plenty of happy foods readily available to give us a boost, there are some foods that should be avoided to prevent slumps and drops in mood.

Alcohol is a widely known depressant. Drinking on a regular basis can lower serotonin levels which can lead to depleted moods, and can result in depression if abused. Having a few drinks every now and then won’t cause too much damage, but getting black-out drunk often definitely won’t do any favours. It’s best to space out drinking sessions and avoid binge drinking.

There are conflicting studies on coffees health benefits and draw backs, and health benefits to drinking coffee, excess caffeine consumption can agitate anxiety, cause irritability and make it difficult to sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, we turn to coffee, and a cycle begins. Sleep deprivation results in irritability and low mood. It is suggested to avoid having more than 3-cups of coffee a day, but some people have a lower or higher caffeine tolerance than others. Switching to decaf or herbal teas might help.

Ultra-processed foods
Technically canned foods, ready-made sauces, and nut butters can be considered processed, but ultra-processed foods refers to the likes of frozen dinners, fizzy drinks, and crisps. While a treat every now and then won’t kill you, ultra-processed foods contain no nutritional value and added chemicals. This means that our brains are starved of nutrients which cause mood swings and fatigue.

Article by: Aisling O’Connor


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