MOOD FOOD: How your gut health affects your mood and emotions

Mood Food happy
Sugar highs, caffeine crashes, hollow carbs and empty calories. We’re all familiar with those blissful moments of temporary food satisfaction… and even more familiar with those bleh, “I-overdid-it-never-again” moments of regret.

We can probably all agree on one thing: what we eat impacts how we feel. Physically, yes. But mentally and emotionally too. We go from pick-me-up to pick-me-up, slump to slump, up and down. The funny thing is that we might actually feel “ok” most of the time. But eventually, we notice that we’re feeling far more fatigued, way more irritable, super sluggish and in a perpetual “I-am-just-so-tired-all-the-time” funk.

Why are we feeling so “off”? Why do our moods seem to tank so easily? Why can’t we shake that brain fog? What are we missing?

Your brain (your “second brain”, that is) might just have the answers you’re looking for.

The link between your gut and your mood

The latest research on gut health has shown some very interesting insights in terms of our overall mood. Studies are indicating that as we take care of our gut health, our mental and emotional health benefits and improves.

Did you know that your gut is also known as your “second brain”? And for good reason. It almost always has a better sense of what’s going on in our bodies than our actual brains - that’s why it’s so important to check in with it regularly. The link between our guts and our brains affects our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and our hormones, brains and bodies.

Our gut doesn’t just exist to help our bodies break down food. It’s far more sophisticated than that. Communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist,

Dr Caroline Leaf explains the amazing link between the microbiome and mental health:
There is a constant conversation going on between the brain and gut, which also has its own amazing neurons (500 million to be exact), just like the spinal cord! This relationship is incredibly important when it comes to our mental health, which is both directly and indirectly affected by what we eat.”

She also says that the key to rebalance our neurotransmitters and reduce our stress and anxiety levels lies in the microbiome. Together the gut-brain produces most of the major neurotransmitters in the body, including GABA and serotonin, which help reduce anxiety levels and increase feelings of calm:

“When you damage the microbiome, you damage serotonin production, which affects your mood, which then impacts the rest of the brain and body!”

It’s no wonder that when something feels off in our gut, our mood feels it! Those “gut feelings” are there for a reason.

How to improve your gut health and boost your mood

For there to be lasting, significant change in our overall sense of health and wellbeing, it’s important to not only have a healthy diet, but also a healthy lifestyle. Healing your gut microbiome can be as simple as changing the way you eat AND creating healthy habits.

1. Eat whole foods first

Eating junk often leaves us feeling pretty junk too, right?

Eating a plant-based diet with mainly whole foods is a great way to fuel your body with nutrient-dense meals, not just for your physical health but your mental health too. Dr. Julia Rucklidge, a global expert on nutrition and mental health, shared a TEDTalk recently on how nutrition has the potential to be far more effective at improving mental health than psychotropic drugs.

If you’re a busy, tired parent and find that you don’t have time or energy to prepare the kind of nutritious meals that you’d prefer, don’t worry. Perhaps start with one thing you can do fairly easily (like healthier lunch boxes) and take it from there. Eating this way takes some adjustment but once it’s a habit, it gets easier.  

2. Avoid processed food, added sugar and preservatives

We all know what it’s like to have a sugar crash after eating a sugary snack or breakfast. There’s no chance of being able to concentrate properly after that! Excess sugar in the body affects attention, cognition, processing, memory, neurotransmitter activity, which then has an impact on our mood, emotions and sleeping patterns.

There have been a number of studies done that revealed a strong link between reduced / eliminated sugar / carbs and processed foods and improved mental health. Phasing or cutting refined sugar, preservatives and other additives out of your diet can work wonders for your mood and wellbeing. Try eating smarter for 21+ days and notice the changes to how you feel.

3. Take probiotics

We all need digestive support to help keep our guts happy. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that support the delicate balance of bacteria (microbiome) in the digestive system and keep things working as they should.

Studies have shown that taking in a probiotic regularly reduces bloating and other digestive issues, and supports a happier mood, less physical discomfort and improved overall body positivity. There are also plenty of foods with natural probiotics or added probiotics that can support your gut health.

4. Eat a fibre rich diet

A diet rich in fibre is crucial to gut health and restoring a balanced digestive microbiome. Research has suggested that fibre can boost mental health, brain health, help heal food sensitivities and reduce inflammation in the body! Over time, a high fibre diet will help you heal imbalances in the gut microbiome, and feed the good bacteria that helps break down our food.

Great sources of fibre include:
  • Fruit: pears, strawberries, apples, bananas, raspberries
  • Vegetables: carrots, broccoli, brussel sprouts, beetroot, kale, spinach, tomatoes
  • Legumes: lentils, kidney beans, split peas, chickpeas, edamame beans
  • Whole grains: quinoa, oats
  • Nuts: almonds, pistachios, walnuts
  • Seeds: Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds

5. Make lasting lifestyle changes

Chronic stress is one of the biggest enemies to our health and wellness. Changing your diet can only do so much for your mental health. You also need a lifestyle that supports your health in every area: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and even relational. The best place to begin is to look at your habits.

Start with one small daily habit that you think will make a difference to your mood.

Here are some ideas:
  • Switch your phone off before bed
  • Start your day with meditation, quiet time or prayer
  • Eat mindfully, without distractions
  • Delete social or news apps that drain you
  • Spend more time with a lifegiving friend
  • Spend less time with toxic people
  • Take a brisk walk in the sun or do a home workout
  • Journal or read
  • Go to therapy

Great ways to boost your serotonin levels naturally

There are a few simple things you can do and eat to naturally increase the release of serotonin in the body. Exercise is particularly effective!
  1. Sunshine
  2. Reduced sugar
  3. Vitamin B
  4. Positive thinking / mindfulness
  5. Protein
  6. Nuts and seeds
  7. Massages
  8. Physical exercise
  9. Meditation 

Top foods to naturally boost your mood

Did you know that we have many mood supporting snacks lining our shelves? Giving your mood that essential boost is as easy as popping your favourites into your cart (in store or online) and enjoying them as part of your on-the-go lifestyle.
Here are a few snacks noted for their mood supporting health benefits:
  • Prunes
  • Dried mango bites (with added BC30 probiotics)
  • Roasted and flavoured peanuts and raisins (with added BC30 probiotics)
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Walnuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Linseed / flaxseed
  • Chia seeds

We hope this information really helps you prioritise your gut health and your mental health.

In the mood for mood-boosting food?

The formula for a double dose of happy hormones is really simple:
Shopping! + Healthy goodies from Montagu! = Serotonin boost!
Browse through our wide variety of healthy snacks in-store or online today!
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