Your food, your mood

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We’ve been discussing how stress eating due to COVID19 (and the depressive effect it’s had on our lives), has impacted our waistlines.

While comfort foods like chocolate and chips may seem tempting and harmless to indulge in at the moment, they may actually contribute to more stress, depression, and inflammation in your body.

It’s not all in your head

Did you know that 90% of the receptors for serotonin (the feel-good hormone) live in our guts? Diet, certain medications, and stress can impact the bacteria in our bowels both positively or negatively. For example, medications used for depression and anxiety known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) often have gastrointestinal side effects like nausea or diarrhea. The biological dialogue between the brain and the gut through the vagus nerve may be the culprit. 1

Disease may occur when the balance of good and bad bacteria in our bowels is upset. Asthma, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, and mood disorders are a few examples. As much of our immunity is housed in the gut, the disruption of bacteria may lead to autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. 2 To keep the balance tipped in your favor, you have to be good to your gut!

Foods that hurt

It’s no surprise that the foods we know to raise our risks of diabetes, heart disease and obesity may also be linked to depression. A recent observational retrospective study using a diet history questionnaire found that depressed adults consumed more processed sugar, chocolate and sweets compared to those who did not report depression. 3 Did people eat more junk food because they’re depressed, or did the food increase their risk of depression? Individuals that did not report depression had higher intakes of whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables.

Additional studies have indicated that a traditional Western diet (high in fat, sodium and sugar) has been linked with depression in teens. Participants aged 14 to 17 were questioned about their food habits and depression. Individuals consuming a Western diet were more likely to be obese and suffer depression while those at normal weight consumed more nutritious foods including fruit, vegetables, fish and whole grains.

Feel good foods

As mentioned above, plant-based foods that are high in antioxidants are one of our body’s best defenses in improving our moods. These foods also provide fiber, which is fuel for balanced bowel bacteria. Below are some tips to get more “food in your food”:

  • Switch to whole grains- choose whole grain bread over white, brown rice over white and whole grain pasta over refined.
  • Choose cherries over chocolate. Got a sweet tooth? Go for seasonal fruit. With so much to choose from, there’s no excuse.
  • Add beans and legumes to your salads, soups and sides. They’re versatile and valuable!
  • Kick the can. Sugary soda isn’t doing anything for your body but causing weight gain and raising the risk for heart disease and diabetes. Thirsty? Sip on water.
  • Skip the fast food. Try simple recipes at home that include fish, lean meat, vegetables and fruit. Food doesn’t need to be fancy to be healthy.

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Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD


  1. Dash S, Clarke G, Berk M, Jacka FN. The gut microbiome and diet in psychiatry: focus on depression. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2015;28(1):1-6.
  2. Philippou E, Nikiphorou E. Are we really what we eat? Nutrition and its role in the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. Autoimmun Rev. 2018;17(11):1074-1077.
  3. Grases, G., Colom, M.A., Sanchis, P. et al.Possible relation between consumption of different food groups and depression. BMC Psychol 7, 14 (2019).
  4. Wendy H.OddyabKarina L.AllencGeorgina S.A.TrappbdGina L.AmbrosinibdLucinda J.BlackbeRae-ChiHuangbPeterRzehakfKevin C.RunionsbFengPanaLawrence J.BeilingTrevor A.Morig. Dietary patterns, body mass index and inflammation: Pathways to depression and mental health problems in adolescents. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity Volume 69, March 2018, Pages 428-439


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