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The Food and Mood Correlation 

As a psychologist, I have continually witnessed the food and mood correlation. Our mind and body reap the benefits of clean eating. There is a growing body of research that supports the saying that we are what we eat physically and psychologically. Proper nutrition along with self-care and exercise is extremely important in order to live a healthy life, mentally and physically. 

Our nutrition impacts our gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is involved in the production of important neurochemicals that help us function. A large percentage of our neurochemicals are produced in our GI tract, including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine, and melatonin. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on food as it relates to serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and acetylcholine. These neurochemicals regulate our mood, learning abilities, memory, and so much more. These important neurochemicals help us function physically, mentally, socially, and professionally. 

Research has demonstrated that foods are natural sources of substances that may affect the nervous system (Briguglio, Dell’Osso, Panzica, Malgaroli, Banfi, Dina, Galentinoe, & Porta, 2018). Briguglio et al., (2018) searched literature related to the impact of food sources on neurochemicals. Their findings indicate that certain foods can impact the production of serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and acetylcholine. Corresponding research has shown that those who include a good number of fruits and vegetables in their diets show improvements in mood, memory, depression, and overall quality of life (Gehlich, Beller, Lange-Asschenfeldt, Köcher, Meinke, & Lademann, 2020). Examples of these foods are listed below, although there are many more. 

  • Foods that impact serotonin include: kiwi, strawberries, potatoes, paprika, plums, & pineapples. 
  • Foods that influence dopamine include: avocados, bananas, plantains, peas, apples, and oranges. 
  • Foods that affect GABA include: spinach, cruciferous vegetables, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, beans, and rice. 
  • Foods that impact acetylcholine include: peas, radishes, strawberries, squash, mung beans, and spinach. 

It is important to evaluate the correlation between your foods and your moods. When your nutritional intake is optimal, you may notice an increase in positive moods. On the contrary, when your nutritional needs are compromised, you may notice more negative moods. A variety of theories exist regarding how food affects mood. These theories include the role of micronutrients, microorganisms in the gut, and changes in behavior when consuming a healthy diet (Eaton, Firth, & Sarris, 2020). Lachance & Ramsey (2015) emphasize the link between diet and mental health as it relates to the microbiome in our GI tract. Our mood may also be impacted by self-care and additional nutritional factors such as caloric intake, protein intake, inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, omegas, food sensitivities, and food allergies. It is important to discuss these factors with your doctor. Overall, it is vital to prioritize your self-care and unique nutritional needs in order to feel happier and healthier. 

Andrea Hempel, Ph.D.

Psychologist

11555 Medlock Bridge Road, Suite 100, Johns Creek

DrAndreaHempel.com

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