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Monday, 26 September 2022

Top 5 foods to boost your mood

The relationship between gut health and our emotions is so profound that it’s reflected in our everyday language – gut feeling, gut instinct, butterflies in your stomach – all indicating a link between the gut and the brain.

We all know that our brains and bodies need food to function, but not all food is created equal when it comes to keeping both in tip-top shape. The brain and gut are in constant communication (this is called the bi-directional gut-brain axis), which means that they have a direct effect on each other. Stress and mood disorders compound one another, with many studies indicating differences in gut microbiota health in people with depression compared to healthy controls.

Maintaining good gut health to support a healthy mind and mood can be difficult to manage. It’s common to reach for a block of chocolate or pour an extra large glass of wine after a stressful day – and when we say stressful day, we mean anything from missing the bus to having a difficult conversation at work. These everyday stressors can induce unhealthy eating which, over time, causes bad bacteria to grow in the gut. The tricky thing here is that it can easily become a vicious cycle; you have a bad day and reach for food that provides temporary comfort but causes an unhealthy gut environment, and an unhealthy gut environment can have a negative effect on your mood – and all of a sudden, you’re stuck in a low-mood rut.

In light of this, we’ve put together a list of the best foods to eat to maintain a happy and healthy gut environment, read on below and add these to your shopping list today!

Fish

Rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, fish such as salmon, trout, tuna, anchovies or sardines are excellent mood-boosting foods. Omega 3 appears to play a key role in the creation of new brain cells and modulating emotions and brain function. Aim to pop some fish on your plate for two to three meals per week.

Chocolate

Turns out grabbing a square (or two) of chocolate is good for both the mind and body! Cacao, the main ingredient in chocolate, is high in the mood-boosting nutrients tryptophan (a precursor to the neurotransmitter, serotonin) and magnesium (often used as a muscle relaxant). Pro tip: Dark chocolate is the way to go as it contains a higher percentage of cacao and less sugar.

Bananas

Bananas are high in prebiotics, with one banana equating to 10% of your daily fibre needs. They are also high in tryptophan, which has been linked to positive moods. A good source of tyrosine (a precursor to the feel-good hormone, dopamine), bananas deserve a top spot on your shopping list.

Almonds

Like bananas, almonds contain mood-boosting tyrosine. A handful (30 grams) a day is recommended as a good source of fibre and prebiotics – they also make you feel fuller for longer as they’re high in healthy fats. When snack-time rolls around, try 10 almonds and a slice of cheese to keep you going for the rest of the afternoon.

Oats

Oats are a simple and nutritious way to start off those cooler mornings. Porridge is a great source of whole grains, which act as essential food for the gut microbiota.

For a tasty way to start the day, add 1/3 cup raw oats, milk, a sprinkle of sultanas, ½ banana and some cinnamon – pop it on the stove (stirring constantly) and voila! Breakfast fit for gut-health royalty.

Okay, we’ve given you our top five foods but there’s one honourable mention in the liquid category that we want to include… gut health shots!

Gut shots and probiotic drinks are a hot trend in the gut health world. Many gut shots are simply mini kombucha shots. Some are a combination of anti-inflammatory powerhouses like turmeric, ginger, and others are made from fermented green cabbage. These small but mighty liquids can be a quick way to boost probiotics in your gut, but shouldn’t replace a healthy diet rich in whole foods and probiotic-packed foods like yoghurt, kefir and kimchi.

Tips for choosing a good gut shot:

  1. Choose chilled shots as most probiotics won’t survive at room temperature
  2. Look for 1 billion or more CFU (colony forming units) per shot
  3. Make sure there’s no added sugar

References

Lindseth, G., Helland, B., & Caspers, J. (2015). The effects of dietary tryptophan on affective disorders. Archives of psychiatric nursing, 29(2), 102–107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apnu.2014.11.008

Madison, A., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2019). Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human-bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition. Current opinion in behavioral sciences, 28, 105–110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2019.01.011

Tosti, V., Bertozzi, B., & Fontana, L. (2018). Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Metabolic and Molecular Mechanisms. The journals of gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences, 73(3), 318–326. https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/glx227

Interested in Nutrition?

How does your gut health affect your weight, mental health and immunity? Find out more through Gut Health: the microbiome and wellbeing, one of our Nutrition Short Courses.

"I’ve been loving doing the Gut Health course from Endeavour Short Course! I think it’s so important in this industry to constantly be growing, educating and challenging yourself – and these short courses make that so achievable. All the cutting-edge research that they share through the course has helped me stay on top of the new information coming in... but as a side note – I have just loved learning again! I miss sitting in a lecture room! But this is the next best thing."

- Lani Finau