Everyone feels low from time to time. But have you ever wondered whether what you eat could help put you in a better mood?
According to the mental health charity Mind there's a growing interest in how food and nutrition can affect emotional and mental health. And while the evidence for food affecting mood is still in its infancy, many experts believe making the right diet choices is a positive self-help strategy.
Changes in blood sugar levels are widely known to affect mood and energy levels, while deficiencies in certain nutrients such as zinc, some B vitamins and essential fatty acids have also been linked with mental health problems. What you eat may also affect your brain's production of mood-altering neurotransmitters (or chemicals), such as serotonin and dopamine.
But which foods should you eat more of and which ones should you avoid? Here are our five top tips on eating to boost your mood:
1. Cut down on caffeine
According to Mind, caffeine is probably the most widely used behaviour-modifying drug in the world. Most people drink coffee because it gives them a boost, which can be helpful in certain situations. But drinking too much caffeine – which is also found in tea, chocolate and some fizzy drinks – may lead to emotional problems such as depression and anxiety.
If you suffer from mood swings it's a good idea to switch to decaffeinated and non-caffeinated drinks. If that sounds like a tall order, try to limit yourself to one or two cups of caffeinated drinks a day.
Other foods that may cause mood swings include those that contain alcohol and sugar, so limit these in your diet too.
2. Eat slow-release carbohydrates
If your energy level is low, your mood may often follow. That's why it's important to eat foods that release energy slowly, including unrefined carbohydrates such as whole grains (for example oats, brown and wild rice, barley, corn, quinoa, rye and whole wheat).
3. Feast on oily fish
Studies have found that omega-3 essential fatty acids are important for healthy brain functioning, as well as a range of other health benefits. Some experts even think omega-3 supplements can help treat problems such as depression. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish, such as salmon, fresh tuna, trout, mackerel, pilchards and sardines.
According to the NHS, a healthy diet should include at least two portions of fish a week, including one portion of oily fish. Women of childbearing age shouldn't eat more than two portions of oily fish a week because pollutants found in oily fish may affect the development of a baby in the womb in the future.
Omega oils are also found in vegetarian foods such as rapeseed oil, flaxseed oil, soya oil and soya-based foods, many nuts and seeds, and omega-3 fortified eggs.
4. Get your five a day
Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables every day helps to ensure that you're getting the nutrients your body needs, which will support your emotional health too. If you struggle with getting enough fruit and veg in your diet, try adding some fruit to your cereal, porridge or yoghurt in the morning, make a fruit smoothie at lunchtime, snack on cherry tomatoes or carrot sticks in the afternoon and have two portions or more of vegetables with your dinner.
For more ideas on getting your five a day, visit the Change4Life website.
5. Eat more bananas
Some experts believe that levels of serotonin – often called the feel-good hormone – are depleted by stress. The good news is that certain foods are believed to help boost serotonin release. That's because they contain a nutrient (or amino acid) called tryptophan, which is converted into serotonin in your brain. These foods include bananas, turkey, chicken, fish, cottage cheese, eggs, nuts, wheat germ, avocados, milk, cheese and pulses.
If you need help with an emotional problem, CABA advisors are available via our 24-hour helpline: call+44 (0)1788 556 366. Alternatively you can chat to an advisor online at any time of the day or night.