Published on October 17, 2023

The Psychology of Food: Does What You Eat Affect Your Mood?

Movement, thoughts, heartbeat, breathing, and even sleeping all need a constant supply of energy to keep us going, and that energy comes from the food we eat. Healthy eating generally consists of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, lean meats, beans, eggs, fish, nuts, beans, and poultry. It also entails limiting sodium, added sugar, and trans fats. Let’s look at how food affects our physical and mental health, how depression and diet are interlinked, and a few tips for eating healthy when you’re depressed.  

How Does Food Affect Your Overall Health 

Scientists found that the risk of death from stroke, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease increases with too much consumption of processed meat, sodium, unprocessed red meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages. They also established that the risk of early death increased in individuals who didn’t consume seafood, omega-3 fats, vegetables, polyunsaturated fats, whole grains, and fruits. Studies link reduced death due to these 3 diseases with improved diet. 

Consuming too many calories can lead to weight gain and obesity: obesity increases the risks of illnesses like kidney and liver disease, obstructive sleep apnea, and type-2 diabetes. It also puts you at risk of at least 13 types of cancer, including breast cancer in postmenopausal women, endometrial (uterine), and colorectal cancer. 

You can eat enough, but a non-balanced diet exposes you to nutritional deficiencies. They can also result from pregnancy, alcohol consumption, intestinal disease, or medication you’re taking, such as high blood pressure medicine. A few nutritional deficiency examples include: 

  • Low levels of Vitamin A: night blindness 
  • Vitamin D or calcium deficiency: rickets
  • Iron deficiency: tiredness and shortness of breath
  • Vitamin C deficiency: scurvy 
  • low levels of vitamin B7 (common in pregnancy): biotin deficiency
  • Vitamin K deficiency: poor bone development 
  • Low levels of Vitamin B3: pellagra 
  • Low levels of B12: hypocobalaminemia 

Eating a balanced diet or taking vitamin supplements can mitigate these risks. 

How Does Food Affect Your Mental Health?

There is a link between physical health and mental health, and if food affects our physical health, then what is its effect on our mood and mental health? A healthy diet helps maintain a healthy gut, which further sends signals to your brain through the gut-brain axis. Microbes in your gut produce serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters that regulate mood and emotions and are implicit in mental health outcomes. 

Eating regularly prevents your blood sugar levels from dropping and makes you feel less tired or bad-tempered. Proteins contain amino acids that help regulate your mood, and staying hydrated keeps your concentration and energy levels up. In contrast, caffeine can cause sleep problems and make you irritable and anxious. 

Lean proteins, products, and complex carbohydrates (beans, quinoa, rolled oats) are best at enhancing your mood because they increase serotonin, the feel-good chemical in your brain. Fruits and vegetables boost happiness, and protein consumption (beef, turkey, eggs, fish, unsweetened yogurt) leads to higher norepinephrine and dopamine levels, hormones that affect your motivation and concentration. However, refined flour-based foods (baked goods, breads, crackers), soda, and cookies can leave you mentally drained

Exploring the Relationship Between  Diet and Depression 

Diet as an essential component of mental health has created the field of nutritional psychiatry that uses food or food supplements as alternative treatments for mental health disorders. For example, The Mediterranean diet, which includes omega-3-rich fish, fruits, legumes, and olive oil, decreases symptoms of depression. The Mediterranean diet and traditional Japanese diet (fish, seafood, steamed vegetables, etc.) have 25 to 35% lower risks of depression compared to the typical “Western” diet. 

Large population studies found that people who consumed nutrient-dense food showed greater mental well-being and happiness. Sugar and processed food lead to inflammation in the brain and body, contributing to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. 

Unhealthy dietary practices can be a result of depressive symptoms. According to Dr. Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, while eating a salad is not a cure for depression, simply increasing your intake of plants and healthy food can improve your mental health. 

Tips for Healthy Eating When You’re Depressed 

If you’re feeling too depressed to practice healthy eating habits, then let us help!

Opt for Prepared Meals 

Your depression can make simple tasks feel overwhelming; going for prepared meals, such as Fitlife Foods, eliminates the need to plan, shop for ingredients, and cook. They will ensure you get balanced, nutritious meals and help you avoid processed or high-sugar food. You can save time on cooking and focus on other aspects of self-care, such as exercising or therapy.

To choose the right healthy meal delivery service, look at the quality of ingredients, when they cook your food (a week ago or a day before; fresh foods have higher nutritional value), variety, and overall reviews. 

Set a Meal Schedule

A meal schedule helps you stay nourished even during depressive episodes, reducing the stress of deciding when to eat. According to The Center for Healthy Eating and Activity Research at the University of California, a consistent schedule will help you maintain a balanced diet in the long run. It creates a stable energy source and keeps your metabolism engaged at optimal levels all day. Here is what a typical meal plan (based on a 6 a.m. wake-up time) looks like:

  • Breakfast at 7 am: opt for oatmeals or omelet with spinach 
  • Snacks at 9:30 am: fruits or low-fat yogurt
  • Lunch at noon: Salmon or chicken with brown rice
  • Snack at 3 pm: Unsalted nuts 
  • Dinner at 6 pm: Chicken or meat with whole grain noodles. 

You can adapt the timing and food to meet your personal schedule and taste.

Eat With a Loved One 

Eating with your friends and family helps decrease stress, encourage more mindful eating, and even prevent depression. A review found that frequent family meals protect you from psychological problems such as eating disorders, substance abuse, and depression. It encourages social interaction, which can reduce isolation and help you establish structure and routine in your daily life. 

Endnote 

Food is an integral part of your life. It is the primary source of energy that keeps us going through life and fulfills all our tasks. It is essential for your physical health and critical to improving your mood and mental health. If you’re routinely affected by depression or other mental health disorders that disrupt your daily life, follow the tips listed above to establish structure. 


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