There’s a strong link between your gut and your brain, and the food that you eat can really make a difference in your moods. Eating the wrong kinds of food can lead to inflammation and slow down the production of feel-good hormones such as serotonin. While you can’t eat your way out of depression or anxiety, consuming the right foods can support other treatment approaches and make you feel better both inside and out. Below, we break down what foods to avoid and then explore some types of good food that can help support a better mood.
What to Avoid
The things that you don’t eat are just as important as the ones that you do. Here are six food and beverages that you should limit or avoid if you want to make the most of the gut-brain link:
Many packaged foods, from your breakfast muffins to the pre-made sauce you put on your dinner, contain loads of added sugar. Because the sugar is already processed, your body quickly breaks it down and converts it to glucose, which can cause your mood and energy to spike — and then to crash just as quickly.
Beyond just the sugar, packaged foods also tend to be high in salt and sodium, unhealthy fats, calories and chemicals, all of which can make you feel bloated and sluggish. Try to avoid these foods, instead cooking simple meals using unprocessed ingredients. A microwave meal here or there is fine, but it shouldn’t be your main source of nutrition.
Saturated fats are found in butter, cheese, red meat and other animal-based foods. They can raise your bad cholesterol and increase your risk of developing heart disease. Try to limit these foods and replace them with some of the healthier items listed in the next section.
Red Meat and Processed Meat
Red meat deserves its own call out, as do processed meats, which are high not only in saturated fats but also additives and chemicals as well. These proteins should be limited to two to three servings a week at most. Prioritize other lean animal proteins and fish instead of steak and roast beef.
Sure, caffeine can give you a temporary jolt of energy, but then you’ll crash, feeling more fatigued than ever. Drinking too much caffeine or having it too late in the day can also negatively impact your sleep cycle, which is critical for mood regulation. If you do drink caffeine, try to stick to one to two cups before lunch to stop it from keeping you awake at night.
Alcohol can make you feel better momentarily by suppressing feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. However, over time it can cause the brain to produce less feel-good hormones like serotonin and more chemicals that make you feel sleepy and sluggish. It also interrupts your sleep, which can make you feel worse physically and mentally.
What to Eat
So those are the foods to avoid. What about the ones that are good for you? Here are seven foods that you should definitely be incorporating into your regular diet:
Fruits and Vegetables
Produce is packed with nutrients, fiber and good complex carbs, not to mention that they’re low calorie. Buy fresh if you can, or frozen for the next best thing. If you’re on an IBS diet plan, be aware that many types of produce can irritate your symptoms, especially if eaten raw. If the meal prep is getting to you, consider low FODMAP meal delivery to make things easy on yourself. What is FODMAP? It’s a science-backed list of foods to avoid for irritable bowel syndrome that improves symptoms when followed.
We’ve been taught to avoid grains like the plague, but some of them are actually really good for you. Whole grain bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, beans, pulses and oats contain nutrients and complex carbs, not to mention lots of fiber that will help keep you regular. (Being constipated will definitely make you cranky.)
Once shunned during the “no cholesterol” diet craze, eggs are now back in style. While the yolks do contain a decent amount of cholesterol, eggs are a great source of protein, healthy fats and vitamins — plus, they’re relatively low calorie. Now doctors recommend them as long as you average about one egg a day and don’t eat too much.
If you’re not eating fish a couple of times a week, then you definitely should be. This excellent protein is filled with omega-3 fatty acids as well as a whole host of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, vitamin B2, iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium and potassium. If you’ve been eating more red meat, try shifting a couple of your meals to fish instead.
It’s important to vary up your protein sources and not only eat fish, so you should also consider eating more lean poultry such as chicken. Chicken, in particular, is high in protein, low in saturated fats and contains a good amount of vitamins and minerals. If you aren’t enthused by dry chicken breasts, experiment with different ways to cook them.
If you’re looking for sources of plant protein, you should definitely consider nuts. They are high in unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E and more. However, they are also quite high in calories so you should pay attention to how much you eat and try not to chow down on handful after handful.
Probiotics are found in fermented foods and some dairy products, which contain live bacteria and yeasts that help support gastrointestinal function. Some examples of probiotics include yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir. This is one dietary trend that’s definitely good for your gut and your brain.
What you eat really does affect how you feel, for better or worse. Keep these principles in mind as you try to create a more healthy diet that will boost your mood rather than bringing it down.