‘Foodie’ or not, the buzz around Mood Food is growing at an exponential rate as science continues to connect more of the dots between the foods we eat and our emotional health.

Naturally, this raises the question: “can we achieve a healthier mental state by simply nourishing our bodies with more nutritious food?”

The short answer is YES!

This very concept is breathing new hope into the lives of frustrated sufferers experiencing low energy, mood changes, anxiety, irritability, and depression. All of who are desperately seeking solutions to their persisting symptoms.

So if you’re not quite a converted ‘Foodie’, that’s okay. Just acknowledging you can be more in control of how you feel by controlling what you eat is where the journey begins.

It’s time to embrace your curiosity about the links between food, gut, and mood.

Why gut health matters

The gut, our designated caretaker for managing the food we eat, was once considered the most insignificant organ. Today, it’s considered a crucial component for good health and  recognised for its involvement in the process of disease.

The 100 trillion bacteria living inside of our gut microbiomes are working tirelessly around the clock to keep us healthy and happy [1].  They protect us from pathogens and autoimmune diseases, train our immune systems, interact with our emotions, keep us slim, help us digest foods and ferment non-digestible fibers, as well as detoxifying chemicals [2].

Imagine your gut is an enormous rainforest ecosystem rich in diversity. Its very survival and ability to thrive is dependent on a number of factors and conditions. When these conditions are thrown out of balance or are missing altogether, it sets off a chain reaction resulting in a state of ‘dysbiosis,’ in other words microbial imbalance.

Microbiome research across the globe is identifying potential links between microbial imbalance and inflammatory diseases, auto-immune diseases, cancers, and more recently, mental health.

Poor Gut Health and Mood

Stress, environmental factors, diets lacking in adequate nutrients, various medications and  antibiotics are all contributing factors for bringing about microbial imbalance within the gut. So you can see just how easy it is to throw things out of whack!

Inflammation in the gut can occur as a result of this imbalance. Recent studies suggest that chronic gut inflammation may be involved in the development of depression [3], establishing that link between your mood and your food

Depression is a common mental health disorder, characterised by low moods, feelings of guilt, sadness, low self-esteem and lethargy.

Consuming an anti-inflammatory diet rich in nutritious gut-friendly foods will help reduce inflammation in the gut.

If you’re wondering if you might be suffering from some imbalance, here are a few things to look out for!

Common symptoms of imbalance are:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Bad breath
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive flatulence
  • Upset stomach
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Acne
  • Food cravings

Gut-brain axis

We’ve all experienced that “gut feeling” or perhaps stomach butterflies when we’re anxious or nervous.  This is our gut-brain having a two-way conversation. In scientific language, it’s referred to as the gut-brain axis. This two-way communication is facilitated by the enteric nervous system (ENS): the gut’s very own nervous system!

Given research surrounding the gut-brain axis is still in its early days, scientists are busy at work filling their knowledge gaps, whilst also trying to work out how the gut microbiome could be manipulated to produce therapies to improve mental health in the future.

The term,‘Psychobiotics’, coined by Ted Dinan [4], is emerging as a potential new treatment concept. Psycobiotics, or in more simple terms, ‘mood microbes’, are microbes that may produce emotional health benefits. This is a promising insight – watch this space!

The gut-brain axis and food

Alas, we’re getting to the good part: mood and food!

Evidence is behind the benefits of implementing tailored nutrition as part of lifestyle changes to benefit the health of our gut microbiome.  Food not only provides fuel for our bodies, but it also feeds and fuels our ever-so-important gut microbes. 

In fact, scientists did a test on mice: some received treatment with colonised microbes and some didn’t. The scientists observed a behavioural difference between the mice, most importantly that the mice without the colonised microbe treatment were far more stressed.

Other studies on mice have shown that when the “good” bacteria was removed from a group of mice, signs of mental health distress appeared. Though when returning the “good” bacteria back to the same group of mice, the researchers observed a profound change in behaviour noting the mice were less stressed and happy.

So what does that mumbo jumbo mean? Well, while we’re not mice, we can take from this experiment there is likely a link between the health of your gut and your mood!

Tips for Healthy Happy Eating

Eating a gut-friendly enriched diet will not only put a big smile on your face, it will make you glow from the inside out.

  1. Be conscious about your food choices.  This will help you to be more in control of how you feel by controlling what you eat.
  2. Take notes on how different foods make you feel. This helps point to foods that perhaps do not agree best with you. This is also very helpful should you choose to engage with a health practitioner. A simple Gut Diary is handy for this.
  3. Limit sugars.  Sugars help to increase the bad types of bacteria. They love sugar.
  4. Steer clear of highly processed foods. These will feed the bad bacteria helping them to grow in numbers and potentiallybetween good and bad bacteria numbers. It may also create inflammation, leading to a ‘leaky gut’.
  5. Eat prebiotic foods.  They provide fuel to the good bacteria whilst encouraging greater diversity within your gut microbiome. Diversity is super important for a health microbiome.
  6. Include probiotics. These can be found in yogurts and fermented foods. Probiotics can also be purchased in a concentrated powder or capsule formula from a health food shop.  If purchasing a concentrated formula, it is best to speak with a health practitioner, as different formulas contain different bacterial strains. The healthcare practitioner can therefore recommend what would best suit you.
  7. Minimise Stress. Stress is a contributing factor to bringing about imbalance [5].
  8. Enjoy socialising around food and consider a ‘buddy’ to help encourage you to make the right food choices.

Last but not least…commit yourself to repairing your gut and nourishing those little microbes!

A hopeful future

Despite the global rise of anxiety and depression, it’s promising to see alternative considerations at the forefront of new healing and treatment initiatives.

Mood Food is an exciting area filled with possibilities and new hope for frustrated sufferers of symptoms linked to anxiety and depression.

Gut-happy eating is a great place to start in the Mood Food journey and one that will create a strong gut microbiome.

Through nutritious eating you will promote colonisation of good bacteria, reduce inflammation, strengthen the immune system and uplift your mood.

As always stay in contact or reach out to your doctor and consider connecting with a dietitian or nutritionist for dietary support.

Happy Gut Eating 🙂

P.S. don’t forget to consider asking a ‘buddy’ to do this with you. Power in numbers!.


Written by Catharine Nixon, R.N.
Vitamin C Blog