How food affects your mood

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of our daily lives with startling speed. The Jaffa team knows firsthand that the sudden changes to our regular lives is having a big impact on how we’re feeling.

If you’re feeling a little stressed and unhappy, this blog is for you! We’ve shared our top tips for how you can use food to improve your mood and keep yourself feeling a little bit happier during this uncertain time.

How do my food choices affect my mood?

The hormone responsible for stabilising our feelings of well-being and happiness is called serotonin. Serotonin is also important for helping to regulate our sleep, appetite and even our ability to tolerate pain.

You might be surprised to hear that approximately 90% of our serotonin is created in our gut. It’s for this reason that scientific researchers have concluded there is a relationship between what we eat and how we feel. Having a healthy gut helps our bodies to produce a consistent amount of the serotonin hormone. Similarly, poor gut health can disrupt our production of serotonin, which can cause our body to reduce its production of the hormone.

Scientists measure our gut health by assessing our gut microbiome. Whilst science suggests that our unique microbiome is created within the first 1000 days of our life, our dietary choices continue to influence the balance of our gut health as we get older.

Foods that contain lots of chemical additives and ultra-processed foods may be tasty and convenient but they don’t feed your gut microbiome with the nutrients it needs. A diet that is rich in ultra-processed foods such as canned foods, sugar-coated snacks and foods high in salt will cause our gut to become a breeding ground for “bad” bacteria. These so-called “bad” bacteria limit our ability to absorb nutrients from foods and also reduce our ability to regulate our serotonin production.

Can I improve my mood using food?

Whilst a diet of highly-processed foods will starve your gut microbiome of the nutrition it requires to thrive, a balanced diet of whole foods will feed the “good” bacteria in your gut. Research has shown that eating a healthy diet and avoiding inflammation-producing foods is the most effective way of protecting yourself against low moods.

Some of the ways you can improve your mood through food choices are:

● Focus on whole foods and avoid packaged and processed foods where possible. “Whole foods” are any foods that you consume in their natural state. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds all fall into this category.

 Increase your fibre intake by eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Many people in the UK don’t reach the daily fibre intake target set by the NHS. You can boost the amount of fibre you’re eating each day by snacking on fibre-rich foods such as nuts, vegetable sticks or a Jaffa orange or two!

● Eat the rainbow, as the saying goes. Fruits and vegetables are a great way of introducing lots of different colours to your plate at any meal. Eating a colourful diet is a sure-fire way to ensure you are feeding your body all of the nutrients and vitamins it requires to thrive each day.

● Eat probiotic-rich foods such as plain Greek yoghurt. Yoghurts can be made with lots of added sugar so it’s important to read the labels to ensure you’re eating low-sugar options. We recommend you look for Greek yoghurt with a higher fat content to avoid sugar-laden options.

● Try adding fermented foods into your diet. This could mean replacing your morning yoghurt with kefir or occasionally adding sauerkraut to your evening meals. Fermented foods are great for maintaining good gut health.

● Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Mind, the mental health charity, encourages people to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid a day to help with concentration and also to aid your digestion and gut health. Water is the cheapest and healthiest option when it comes to hydration. If you’re struggling to drink enough, try adding wedges of orange and blueberries to a big bottle of water for a delicious naturally-flavoured drink.

Making small changes to your food and drink choices can have a significant impact on your physical and mental health. By following these steps, you can feed your gut microbiome with the nutrients it needs to remain healthy. You will soon feel the effects of your better food choices in your mind and your mood.

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Effective habit building

Of course, it’s not always easy to change how we eat and drink. Our food habits are often formed at a young age and are influenced heavily by our environment. However, you have more control over your food choices than you might think and, by following some simple steps, you can start to change your food habits.

Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change, talks about the idea of ‘keystone’ habits. He describes keystone habits as “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives”. He argues that by forming a new keystone habit, we can create a domino effect that can change other areas of our lives.

Some common examples of keystone habits are sleep and journaling. When we commit to maintaining a regular 8-hours-a-night sleep pattern, research has shown we can expect to find ourselves retaining information more effectively and making better decisions.

Similarly, keeping a personal journal or diary has been shown to improve writing skills, reduce stress and boost creativity. Whilst we may commit to going to bed and waking up at a similar time each day with the intention of feeling more alert and awake, we may find this habit introduces other unintended benefits to our life. For instance, building a habit of sleeping for 8-hours a night will also help us to make healthier food choices because we have more energy with which to make these choices.

Keystone habits have three key characteristics:

1. They make it easier for us to start a new habit

2. They are small enough not to overwhelm us

3. They make positive behaviours addictive

Our daily food choices can become keystone habits too. For instance, choosing to eat a healthy, nutritionally balanced breakfast each morning can help us to stick to healthy food choices throughout the day. A breakfast that is high in fibre and includes protein, carbohydrates and some fats will set you up for success all day. This could be a Jaffa orange chia pudding or a bowl of delicious citrus overnight oats!

Transform your mood for life

The science is clear: our food choices influence how we feel day-to-day in many ways. By focusing on building good food habits, we can help ourselves feel positive and happy each day and spread some #JaffaJoy. We encourage you to take ownership of the food and drink choices you make each day. You will soon find you are in control of your mood much more than you may have realised!