There’s evidence that disruption to the gut’s natural biome can have a real impact on the body and brain. Certain foods have a significant impact on gut bacteria, and avoiding things that are high in additives and preservatives can help protect against your gut’s usual function. Gut-friendly food choices include:
• Whole foods
• Fresh fruits and vegetables (in a range of colors)
• Frozen fruits
• Higher fiber foods
• Probiotic-rich foods (e.g., sugar-free yogurt)
• Fermented foods
It’s important to note that no direct link has been found between consuming certain types of foods and depression. You can’t eat your way into depression. Some studies do show a link between inflammation-producing foods and depression; however, the relationship is not necessarily causal. “Modifiable lifestyle factors such as dietary choices, smoking, and physical activity could potentially affect depression risk but do not act independently,” says Chocano-Bedoya, senior epidemiologist at the University of Zurich.
Consider the reality that mood often influences food choices and eating habits. Is it our food choices that lead us to a negative headspace, or is it the other way around? The answer may vary depending on the individual and situation. When examining the link between fast food and depression, for instance, a study in the Public Health Nutrition Journal showed a close relationship between the two. People who consume a lot of fast food, the study authors point out, are more likely to develop depression.
The study, and others like it, ignore the reality that those who eat a lot of fast food and processed foods might do so because of lack of access to healthful foods and budget constraints. A recently conducted randomized trial, published in PLOS ONE, demonstrated that a healthier diet might help reduce depression in young adults, but eating healthy can be difficult when you’re living in a food desert.
The relationship between food, mood, and societal pressures needs to be studied further. Dietary choices may not necessarily have a direct link with mood. Society’s fatphobia and poor treatment of persons who don’t fit the traditional size mold are essential to consider when examining the relationship between diet and mood. Fat people aren’t necessarily depressed because of the food they’re eating — which isn’t necessarily fast food like people might assume. The depression and anxiety stem from stigmatization and prejudice.
How Skipping Meals Affects Your Mood
That said, certain food habits can absolutely directly impact your mood. Chief among them is skipping meals. Anyone who has ever argued with a friend, partner, relative, or spouse can relate to the emotional ‘hanger’ response that occurs when you’re hungry and your blood glucose drops. An animal study from the University of Guelph found that a sudden drop in blood sugar in rats showed a marked increase in cortisol levels (the stress hormone), which produced sluggishness and stress. In humans, this might translate to a poor mood.
Mood Impact of Cutting Out Food Groups
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine posits that significantly reducing consumption of certain food groups can have an impact on mood. The study found that dieters following a low-fat eating plan with the same number of calories as a low-carb plan were much more likely to experience a boost in mood over a period of one year. The study also reported that those on the low-fat diet maintained their elevated mood levels.
It also revealed that low-carb diets have the potential to impact mood negatively. Why? It’s not necessarily solely about the nutrient content of the diet
plan. The study authors explain that there are certain
factors of a low-carb diet that may make it more likely
to decrease overall mood levels. Sticking to a low-carb
diet is difficult. It’s far outside the norm in the western
world, making it hard to adhere to when around others.
Mood Improving Foods
There are a few foods thought to produce a mood boost. Dark chocolate, for instance, is rich in caffeine, N-acylethanomaline, and theobromine. With many foods, it’s likely that the sensory pleasure has more to do with any tangible mood-boosting effects than particular ingredients or chemicals. There’s no harm in munching on some rich chocolate, antioxidant-filled berries, or nuts and seeds if you’re seeking to improve your mood, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll turn your frown upside down.
Diet is not a cure for mood-related mental illness and is not a surefire solution to help curb a bad mood. A healthy diet isn’t a magic bullet for fixing feelings— or most medical conditions, for that matter. If you’re struggling with depression or another mental illness, please seek help from a professional.