Today is all about food, mood, and stress and really about how all of these things work together to affect your health.

You may be wondering outside of feeling “hangry” how does the food we eat affect your mood?

Well, many studies have shown that diets high in fruits and vegetables, modest in lean protein, and void of many processed sugars and foods is associated with a 25-35% lower risk of depression when compared to a typical “westernized diet”. The Westernized diet, also known as the Standard American Diet, is typically high in processed foods, red meats, sugar, fat, and often highlights pre-packaged or convenient foods. 

In a study published in a psychology and cognitive neuroscience focused journal, researchers found that, “in as little as one week, eating a western diet can significantly alter brain function, with the participants of the study doing worse on learning and memory tests. Further, the Western diet was tied to overeating and increased cravings of sugary treats after consuming a regular meal.” … How many of us can relate to thinking about reaching for something sweet right after finishing a meal?  Additionally, this study found that these participants had experienced an impact in the hippocampus due to their diet which is responsible for things like emotions, learning, and motivation. 

It’s no wonder when we start to get in the habit of making NOT the best food choices, it is hard to start making the right choices on our own!  So, why and how is this happening? 

Serotonin may be a familiar term when you think of our mood. Serotonin is often known as the happiness hormone, but did you know that this hormone impacts our entire body affecting things like sleep, eating, feelings or mood, and digestion? 

Even further, did you know that a vast majority of our serotonin receptors are located in our gut! Newer research is finding that the balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut is directly related to our diet and has a connection with diseases including depression and anxiety. 

So what these findings are telling us is that when we aren’t making the choice to eat a balanced diet, the balance of our gut which is directly related to our mood gets compromised leading us to feel more sad and more unmotivated. 

Now that we know our food IS truly playing a role in our mood, here is what you can start doing to find not only your healthiest version of yourself, but also the happiest version! 

Tip #1. Focus on whole foods.

The Plate Method is one of the easiest and most effective methods for improving your diet by eating a blanched meal of high-quality foods. You can utilize this method to incorporate all of your favorite foods and recipes in your day! 

You want to start reconstructing your plate to have ½ non starchy vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, asparagus, and zucchini to name a few. Next you want to have about a palm or a quarter of your plate covered with lean proteins such as seafood, chicken, or turkey leaving the last ¼ of your plate for those starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, fruits, rice, and breads. 

The Plate Method is one of the easiest and most effective methods for improving your diet by eating a balanced meal of high-quality foods.

Tip #2. Be aware and avoid added sugar.

Along with highly processed foods affecting our serotonin response, let’s take a moment to specifically talk about sugar in the body. Our brains require glucose or sugar for energy. In fact, this organ in our body is the most energy-demanding organ and uses nearly half of all the sugar we consume. BUT, just like anything, too much of something becomes a problem.  

Have you ever had a sweet treat and within the next hour or so felt a mental fog and even decreased happiness leading to cravings? You aren’t going crazy… that is the actual effect excess sugar has on our bodies…

When we consume high amounts of sugar, our blood sugar surges up which is followed by a crash. Research has found a relationship between this high and crash of our blood sugars and mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, as well as learning and memory functions. How is sugar causing this? 

Sugar suppresses an important hormone called BDNF. This particular hormone has been found in lower levels in individuals with depression and other mental disorders such as schizophrenias. We also know that sugar promotes the inflammatory response in our body and when consumed in high amounts consistently it can become chronic inflammation which impacts our immune system and brain. This may also lead to the connection between sugar consumption and depression. 

Further, we know that the inflammation response after consuming a diet high in sugar may also worsen anxiety symptoms by impairing the body’s natural ability to cope with stress.

Sugar has been known to cause blurred vision, difficulty thinking, and fatigue due to the crash which is similar to what a panic attack may feel like for some individuals. While sugar itself does not cause anxiety, research has established a correlation between sugar consumption and anxiety. Or in other words, diets high in sugar may exacerbate actual stress as well as feelings of increased stress. 

Lastly, studies have shown the effects of sugar on memory. High amounts of sugar in the body can cause insulin resistance which damages the communication between brain cells that are fueled by sugar needed for learning and memory in our day. So, be aware of and avoid added sugar. 

Tip #3. Manage your stress.

We live in a world that constantly throws stress at us but have you taken the time to consider how it affects your health? 

We know that increased stress leads to increased cortisol in the body. These higher levels of cortisol lead to increased blood sugar and inflammation, suppressed immune system, and decreased nutrient metabolism. 

Studies also show that increased levels of stress may also cause weight gain and water retention, high blood pressure, fatigue, changes in mood causing irritability, and insulin resistance which we briefly talked about earlier. 

It is clear that while stress often flies under the radar in our journey, we need to take control of this if we want to increase our overall health and mood. 

While stress isn’t as simple to navigate around like sugary beverages, we can work on proper stress management techniques! 

Practicing mindfulness when presented with stressors gives us alternative ways to process and handle what is happening. Whenever you are feeling stressed, practice “STOP” to become more mindful. 

STOP stands for : Slowing down, Taking a breath, Observing what you are feeling in your body such as what you are thinking and what other possibilities exist, and lastly Proceed considering multiple possibilities! 

Taking the time during stressful moments to STOP and become more mindful will help you to navigate your mindset.

Here are 5 others tips for managing your stress that may work for you:

#1. Exercise

#2. Start a daily journal 

#3. Meditation or Yoga

#4. Talking with your support system

#5. Practicing mindfulness 

Need help consistently working on the tips from above? Want to get your portions, sugar intake and/or stress management under control?

We can help!





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