Happy food – Let a Mediterranean style diet put a smile on your face!
You might think that chocolate, biscuits, ice cream, or a big bag of crisps are happy food. Yes, sugary, fatty and salty foods might provide a short-lived energy boost, but the latest research shows a healthy Mediterranean-style diet really is a far more effective way to lift your mood.
There is a big body of scientific evidence to support the belief that a Mediterranean-style diet is great for your physical health and your waistline1. It will cut your risk of heart attack or stroke by around 30%, reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 50%, and slash your risk of breast cancer by 70%. It is also a great way to lose weight2 and that’s why it forms the basis of The Fast 800 programme.
But recent research shows it is great for your mental health and well-being too, having a positive effect on mood and helping to ease depression3. That’s because the foods that make up the traditional Mediterranean diet (plenty of olive oil, nuts, oily fish, fruit, veg and whole grains, a reasonable amounts of full-fat yogurt and cheese, and perhaps even a glass of red wine with the evening meal) are packed with the nutrients your body needs; it’s happy food!
This diet is fantastic at reducing inflammation and also at boosting levels of the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut which in turn play an important role in controlling your mood.
Feed your happy-making gut bacteria
The wide variety of fruit, vegetables and legumes (happy food) which form a central part of the classic Mediterranean diet are a great way to boost levels of the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut, and we now know that some microbiome produce chemicals which reduce anxiety. Amazingly, the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut manufacture 95% of your body’s serotonin, which is known as the ‘feel-good hormone’, because it contributes to our sense of well- being and happiness.
In fact, research has shown a direct link between healthy gut bacteria, elevated mood and a reduction in depression4 and the good news is you can swiftly improve the mix of microbes that live in your gut by changing what you eat. By avoiding sugar and junk food you can starve out ‘bad’ bacteria which are harmful to your health, and by filling your plate with delicious vegetables, pulses and whole grains you can create the best possible environment for ‘good’ bacteria to thrive.
Ease back on inflammation
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce inflammation around the body and also to lower levels of oxidative stress which speeds the ageing process in the body and the brain. This has an impact on mood because a plate packed with different fruit and vegetables contains lots of antioxidants that help mop-up damaging ‘free radicals’, which might otherwise damage your brain cells.
Certain Mediterranean foods such as olive oil, oily fish, legumes and vegetables also contain anti-inflammatory compounds, such as oleic acid, omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols. Research has linked depression to inflammation in the brain but some plant foods (such as apples, kale, berries, grapes and onion) which contain a phytochemical called quercetin can have a natural antidepressant effect.
Mild inflammation in the brain, which naturally increases as we get older, can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, hopelessness and depression5. But the natural compounds in many plant-based foods and also in oily fish, have been shown to help reduce that inflammation.
6 top foods to boost your mood
- Eat a wide variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables which will contain a good mix of vitamins, antioxidants and plant nutrients a happy brain needs6
- Eat leeks, onions, garlic and pulses which are packed with fibre to feed the gut bacteria which make happy hormones
- Enjoy oily fish (such as salmon, sardines, mackerel) three times a week as the omega-3 fats can help lower levels of depression7
- Experiment with fermented foods like sauerkraut to strengthen your happiness inducing gut bacteria8
- Treat yourself to an occasional square of very dark chocolate which contains feel-good compounds (flavonoids) linked to improved mood9
- Include nuts – a moderate intake can lower your risk of depression10
- Lucas M, Chocano-Bedoya P, Shulze MB, et al. Inflammatory dietary pattern and risk of depression among women. Brain Behav Immun. 2014;36:46-53