How does diet influence our mood?

A diet high in processed foods, saturated fat, refined sugars, and salt, may boost your mood temporarily, but relying on a diet packed with these foods will more likely leave you feeling lethargic and flat in the long run.

Low fibre, highly processed foods feed the ‘bad bacteria’ in our gut. Eating them too often can give the ‘bad guys’ the upper hand in our gut, which can lead to inflammation and disease in our body, including depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

Eating healthy, whole foods like fruit and veggies, wholegrains, lean meat and seafood, and dairy foods means you are more likely to get a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre. These foods can impact our gut and brain health, by feeding our ‘good gut bacteria’, reducing inflammation and in turn influencing our physical health and mood for the better.

Top mood-boosting tips:

• Boost fibre in your diet (slowly!) - gut health is linked to brain health

• Enjoy more omega-3 fats – aim for 2-3 serves of oily fish per week + a handful of nuts daily

• Choose good quality carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, brown rice, or oats - spread them throughout the day for good energy

• Aim for 7-9 hours’ sleep per night

• Move your body for 30 minutes every day

The best diet to improve your mood

A Mediterranean style diet is most associated with a reduced risk of depression (by 40-60% in some studies). It contains oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), nuts, wholegrains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and small amounts of lean meat and dairy.

Example Mediterranean Diet meal plan

Breakfast –

1 large egg on 1 wholegrain toast + ¼ avocado + tomato + spinach

Morning tea –

1 small handful of nuts (30g) + 1 piece of seasonal fruit (e.g. apple)

Lunch -

2 cups salad + 100g oily fish (e.g. tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines) + 1 cup whole wheat cous cous + 1 TBSPN EVOO

Afternoon tea –

1 small tub plain Greek yoghurt + berries

Dinner –

100g skinless chicken, roasted + warm lentil salad (1 cup lentils, ½ red onion, 1 Lebanese cucumber, 1 cup spinach, 1 TBPSN capers, ½ cup mini-Roma tomatoes, + crumbled feta) + 1 TBSPN extra virgin olive oil + squeeze fresh lemon

Supper –

1 fresh fig or plum

Water - 8 glasses per day

How does diet influence our immunity?

While there is still a lot we don’t know about the immune system, we do know that up to seventy percent of our immune cells are located along the gastrointestinal tract and our gut bacteria play an essential role in supporting a strong immune system.

So, while there is no one specific food that will help you fight coronavirus, eating a broad range of foods, particularly plants, will help to strengthen your gut bacteria.

Best foods to eat to balance your gut bacteria and immunity

Gut bacteria thrive on fibre, particularly prebiotic or fermentable fibre. These kinds of fibre are found in a wide variety of plant foods, including garlic, onion, Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, and beans), apples, pears, bananas, onion, garlic, leek, stone fruit and dried fruit, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.

Boosting our gut bacteria populations can help too. New bacteria are found in fermented foods or probiotic foods. They include - yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, aged cheeses, sour dough bread, miso, tempeh and kombucha.

Eating them regularly can help to maintain these useful populations.