Oh yes it could! Your eating habits play a huge role in determining your state of mind.
The connection between food and mood is now more readily understood as research and an ever-increasing bounty of literature supports the view that eating the wrong foods can and will lead to ill-health, both in the short and the long-term.
Think for yourself, how food may affect your own mood. Do you feel cross when hungry or do you feel suddenly lethargic after a big meal? And really, why do I feel so tired at 3pm? This is in part due to your blood sugar levels, which after eating rise and suppress a brain chemical which keeps you alert and lower, when you haven’t eaten for a while, affecting primitive brain regions making you more likely to be irritable and angry – hence the term coined Hangry. When it comes to the food and mood connection however, blood sugar levels are only the start of things as the quality and quantity of the nutrients available in the food we eat really do impact on anxiety.
There are 3 main pathways by which the foods that we eat and more importantly, digest affect how we feel. These are:
1) The Nervous System, wherein lies a large nerve call the ‘vagus’ nerve. This travels and communicates bi-directionally from the complex nervous system in the gut to the brain and vice versa. The gut now being given the name as the ‘second brain’ is filled with important neurotransmitters, which affect our brain function – significantly, the gut produces 95% of our serotonin, which regulates things like sleep, mood, appetite and pain. Gaba is another neurotransmitter which helps to calm us. Others such as dopamine are produced to stimulate and get us going. Having the right balance of the requisite neurotransmitters helps ensure that our responses and moods are appropriate to any given situation.
2) The Immune System is the second pathway, which is on constant guard. Depending on what it senses in your gut, it reacts with different kinds of hormones to create or stop inflammation and directly affects how we feel. Inflammation is part of the body’s healing process but when it goes on for too long and becomes chronic it causes illness. We know that a body that is chronically inflamed is more likely to develop mental health conditions such as anxiety. Foods that cause inflammation such as sugar and processed foods are now associated with mood issues and whilst some conditions are considered to be as a result of specific brain inflammation, the gut and brain connection research supports the theory that if your gut is inflamed, mood issues including anxiety may result due to the neurotransmitters communicating with the brain.
3) The Microbiome or bacteria in the gut is the third pathway that affects us. It is considered to have a huge impact on our mood, behaviours and so much more. Some incredible work is now being done regarding the connections between the microbiome and the brain, specifically regarding the type of bacteria in our gut, which can not only influence how we feel but can be linked directly to our feelings of anxiety and depression, with certain strains being shown to reduce anxiety like behaviours.
Crucial and beneficial bacteria that come in the form of probiotics are also regularly being talked about and may reduce negative thoughts and beliefs. Although more work, particularly on humans is needed on the benefits of bacteria in the gut, research does suggest that individuals who take a probiotic, thus ingesting their good bacteria, may see improvements in their mood and be able to fight depression. A study on 40 healthy adults with no previous mood issues showed that the half who took probiotics as opposed to the placebo group, showed an overall improvement in their mood after a 4-week trial (4). It also plays a big role in our immunity and is responsible for producing a number of vitamins essential to mental health such as B12.
Many of our modern-day mood issues result from the relationship between poor eating habits and stress. The shift and changes in our neurotransmitter balance, our immune system and our microbiome and thus, how we respond to the stresses and demands of daily living is made worse because our eating habits tend to slide when we become stressed, which creates a vicious cycle. It turns out that our moods, like our bodies, simply do much better with fresh, whole foods that provide a wealth of protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy omega-3 fats.
Overall, dietary improvements have been shown to have a positive effect on our moods and can help moderate several common mental or emotional states. It is about eating foods that provide you with the essential macronutrients of carbohydrates, proteins and fats as they perform different and vital functions in the body and are the building blocks of good health. Without enough of these amazing nutrients, which a highly processed and sugary diet does not provide, our body can’t do what it needs to do with ease and must then find a way to convert what is being ingested into energy and other requirements, to allow us to function effectively.
Poor diets and poor nutrient assimilation have negative effects on the body and often lead to deficiencies in essential macro and micronutrients, antioxidants and vitamins such as A, C and D. Although the body is incredibly resilient and adaptive; and can “get by” in a weakened state for quite some time, the lack of nutrients can and will take its toll on the body. Good, healthy bacteria is also vital and necessary for us to properly digest food (especially starches) and to absorb the requisite nutrients.
So consider food as an important tool in relieving anxiety. No matter what your current health or mood status, the next time you’re fueling your body, don’t forget that you’re also fueling your brain.