We all feel it right? When we are eating well, focusing on maximising whole foods in our diet, upping vitamins and trying to get a balance of all the good stuff, we feel better for it, even energised. If you've ever suffered from anxiety you might have also noticed that skipping a meal or even consuming caffeine or chocolate can make you feel much worse. Is it coincidence? Definitely not. But what is really happening behind the scenes inside our bodies? Is there a link between food and mood?
We caught up with Brisbane-based Clinical Nutritionist Kara, from Kara Ivy Nutrition, to find out if there really is a link.
Kara is a holistic nutritionist who is passionate about inspiring others to take charge of their own health through dietary and lifestyle interventions. Over the past six years, Kara has been on a health journey to reconnect and understand the complexities of her own body (and hormonal imbalances) through nutrition, exercise and yoga.
- Can certain foods actually make you feel tired and sluggish?
Yes, definitely! Skipping meals, eating irregularly or eating sugary meals and snacks can send our blood sugar levels out of whack. This can lead to high blood glucose and then a drop where blood glucose falls too low. Around 60% of our blood glucose is utilised by our brains, therefore any drop in blood glucose can cause symptoms of brain fog, irritability, anxiety, mood imbalances, and more sugar cravings to try and rapidly increase blood glucose. Here is where we enter the blood sugar dysregulation cycle, we now crave sugar and the same process repeats itself over again.
If this is you, try focusing on more frequent, smaller meals, each containing a combination of a protein source, slow digesting carbohydrates or fibre, and fat. This will slow digestion and help blood sugar remain stable having a positive impact on your mood. You could try veggie sticks and hummus, rice crackers with avocado and tuna or yoghurt with berries and pumpkin seeds.
- What are your top tips for improving your mood through nutrition?
We’ve all heard the saying ”you are what you eat” but we sometimes forget how food impacts our mood, and the importance of proper nutrition when it comes to mental health.
Making a few simple changes to your diet can make a huge difference for your mental health. Here are some mood boosting tips and how you can implement them into your daily routine:
- GUT HEALTH
Our gut is where 90% of our serotonin is produced and this is why sometimes your gut can reflect how you are feeling emotionally. If you're stressed or anxious this can make your digestive system slow down or speed up.
For healthy digestion, you need to have plenty of fibre, fluid and exercise regularly. Healthy foods for a diverse microbiome include fruits, vegetables and beans, pulses, probiotic-rich yoghurt, kefir and sauerkraut.
- PROTEIN INTAKE
Protein contains amino acids, which make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings. It also helps keep you feeling fuller for longer. Great sources of protein are: fish, eggs, cheese, meat, legumes (peas, beans and lentils), tofu, tempeh, quinoa, nuts and seeds and good quality protein powder.
- HEALTHY FATS
Your brain needs fatty acids (such as omega 3 and 6) to keep it functioning. So rather than avoiding all fats, it’s important to eat the right ones. Healthy fats are found in oily fish, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), olive oils, seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin), avocados and eggs.
- FRUITS AND VEGGIES
Vegetables and fruit contain a lot of the minerals, vitamins and fibre we need to keep us physically and mentally healthy. Eating a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables every day means you're providing your body with a wide range of nutrients needed to support mood, brain function and energy levels.
- STAY HYDRATED
Not only does a lack of fluid contribute to headaches and brain fog, but it might also start to make you feel constipated which can have long-term effects on your gut health. Keeping a big 2.2L water bottle on you is the best way to ensure you are keeping hydrated.
- What's your favourite meal or snack to help improve your mood?
I love making smoothies as they are so quick and easy to throw together, but also ideal for packing full of nutrients. My mood boosting green smoothie is loaded with a range of vitamins, minerals, protein and good fats, a winning combination and easy to make and drink if you are on the run. Spirulina and Maca are great sources of nutrients and readily available, they are also known for their positive impact on hormones, mood and energy enhancement.
Kara’s Mood Boosting Green Smoothie:
- 1 cup Almond Milk
- 3 tablespoons Vegan Protein Powder (pea & rice blend)
- 2 tablespoons Chia Seeds
- 3 tablespoons Hemp Seeds
- 1 tablespoon Ground Flax Seed
- 1/2 cup Spinach
- 1 ripe Banana
- 1 cup Ice
- Optional: 1 tablespoon Spirulina Powder & 1/2 teaspoon Maca Powder
- Throw all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.
- Optional: Add 1/5 cup passion fruit at the base of the cup for an extra fruity smoothie.
We can’t wait to try this smoothie for ourselves! Big thanks to the amazing Kara for letting us pick her brain and sharing her wisdom on food and mood.