The Hobart

Do You Need Good Mood Food?

by Serena Hodge, Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD)
Do You Need Good Mood Food?

If a friend came to you in the woes of a mental health slump asking for advice on how to manage it, what would you tell them?

Perhaps to seek out a psychologist, initiate pharmacotherapy, or to spend some time away from the office to regroup. Kudos to you! These are all great suggestions. But what if I told you that there might be more to it. What if food can play an important role in impacting our mood and overall mental health status too?

In 2020-21, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that over two in five Australians aged 16-85 years had experienced a mental health disorder at some time during their life. In 2017-18, 10% of Australians had depression or feelings of depression; an increase from 9% in 2014-15. To top it all off, the World Health Organisation has predicted that by 2030, depression will be the leading cause of disease burden globally. Pretty crazy stats, huh?

As our modern lives have become increasingly fast-paced and productivity- driven; our dietary patterns have had to follow suit to accommodate. The result? An increase in reliance on processed, packaged and, well…you’ve heard it all before. Otherwise known as a ‘Western dietary pattern’, the current diet of a typical Australian represents a vast contrast to dietary patterns that are thought to promote mental wellbeing.

The science behind good-mood food The link between diet and mental health is a rapidly growing area of research. Currently, the research on eating well for mental health can summed up with two pieces of advice:

1. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, fish and seafood.

2. Limit red meat, highly processed foods and added sugars.

More commonly known as the Mediterranean style diet, this eating pattern has gained traction over recent years for its positive associations in reducing risk of depression and overall severity of symptoms among sufferers.

It is now understood that depression is associated with a chronic, low-grade inflammatory response in the body. The anti-inflammatory properties that a Mediterranean style diet exerts is one proposed mechanism for its positive effects on mood. Regular consumption of oily fish (think: salmon, tuna, mackerel) provides a rich source of dietary omega- 3’s. A type of fatty acid that is thought to play an important role in overall brain health and anti-inflammatory pathways in the body. Not a fan of seafood? You can still get your fix of omega 3’s through plant-based foods. Good sources include linseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and even miro-algae such as spirulina or chlorella.

Following a Mediterranean style diet naturally equates to eating an abundance of fibre; a key nutritional component of supporting a healthy gut. It is well understood that there is a two-way street of communication that exists between our gut and brain. With the types of microbes that reside in our gut having the potential to influence our mood in a big way. The best way to support a healthy gut microbiome? Focus on variety with fruit, veggies and grains.

Where to from here? Am I proposing that a mere handful of walnuts or a side salad at dinner with quell you of major depression? Absolutely not. Like any nutrition-related condition, food is only one piece of the (much bigger) puzzle. Therefore, adopting a holistic approach is a must. Think about it like this: alongside medication, psychotherapy, physical activity and (dare I say) an audit of your current lifestyle; what you feed your body (and subsequently, your mind) should certainly not be overlooked in mental health management.

A realistic approach to eating well for mental health If experiencing episodes of low-mood is something you can relate to, it is here that I want to remind you to take a gentle approach when it comes to food and your mood. Because during the throes of a depressive episode, the subpar level of motivation to undertake menial daily activities (such as whipping up a nutritious meal) can feel very, very real.

Maybe looking after yourself nutritionally means ordering an Uber Eats Zambrero meal instead of a Big Mac on the days where you can’t bring yourself to get out of bed. Maybe it means reaching out to a loved one for support, instead of skipping meals on days where your appetite has evaded you. Remembering that although the subtlety of these positive dietary changes might not feel immediate or profound in relation to your mood, they do have the potential to physiologically support the holistic management of depression and overall mental health status.

If this article has triggered anything for you around mental health, I strongly recommend Lifeline on 13 11 14. This article is not intended to provide medical or individualised dietary advice.

Follow Serena on Instagram @coconut_ mason or head to for more.

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May 2024

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