If you find yourself in a mental rut and feeling particularly stressed or anxious, you might gravitate toward sugary, salty or fatty foods. But this so-called pattern of "comfort eating" can make us feel even worse, wherein we continue to eat poorly to offset those feelings and create a vicious cycle.
There is a growing body of evidence on the connection between food and mental health: What you eat can affect your mood. What is great is that with some simple daily changes, you can break this cycle and improve your mood and how you feel.
Your digestive tract has a direct line of communication with your brain and plays a considerable role in your overall emotional well being.
Your gut contains trillions of organisms, including yeast and bacteria, that constitute its microbiome. An imbalance in the gut microbiome can contribute to mood changes, according to Frontiers in Genetics. In addition, over 90 percent of your body's serotonin production happens in the gut thanks to bacteria. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps your body regulate mood. It also affects your eating habits, potentially putting you in a positive or negative eating pattern, according to Frontiers in Psychology.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet helps your gut function optimally and can ensure that it is sending the proper signals to the rest of your body.
It's not always easy to stop the cycle of turning to food when stressed. The good news? You can always get back on track. You can ease your way into healthier habits by taking small steps. Here are five simple ways to start:
1. Eat more fresh produce: Eating more fruits and vegetables could be the key to improving your mood. Research in the American Journal of Public Health found that getting eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day had a positive impact on mood. If you find this challenging, incorporating a smoothie is great way to boost your intake. Use fresh or frozen fruit, or simply add a scoop of our Daily Fruit and Vegetable Blend. To create a balanced meal with even more nutritional value, include a scoop of our Daily Nutritional Support powder, which contains 15g of protein as well as your daily dose of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, electrolytes and detoxification support.
2. Hold the sugar. When you're sad, stressed or frustrated, you might crave rich, sugary foods. But Harvard Health finds that eating a lot of refined sugar can worsen your mood. Opt for a square or two of dark chocolate, some fruit or try one of our Whole Food Bars instead.
3. Cook dinner at home. Meals at a restaurant often tend to be larger in portions and have higher quantities of salt and sugar. Preparing your meals at home is a great way to know what ingredients are going into your food and how much you are eating. It can also save you money too. If you're someone who frequently eats out, start by cooking just one or two additional meals per week. If you're short on time, create a meal plan and take an hour or two once a week to prep ingredients.
4. Take a probiotic. Your gut bacteria can play a significant role in your mental and emotional health. Taking a probiotic supplement can help maintain the diverse range of bacteria to support your optimal gut environment. There is increasing research and findings that a healthy gut may improve mood and support your mental health, according to Annals of General Psychiatry.
5. Follow a Mediterranean diet. A wide variety and color of fresh produce, fish, healthy fats, lean meat and gluten-free wholegrains may constitute the best diet for your mental health, suggests Harvard Health. Omega-3s from wild fish, pasture raised eggs and grass fed meat, fiber from fruits and vegetables, and reduced sugar can all contribute to better health and a more balanced mood overall.
We cannot ignore the connection between food and mental health as more and more research points to the significant gut-brain connection. Take small steps to reduce consumption of processed foods and start to incorporate healthier choices. Good food translates into a good mood. Your mind and body will thank you.