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What is the Food and Mood Project?







Did You Know?

Low fat diets can make you depressed. Research has linked diets that drastically cut down on all types of fat with an increase in symptoms of depression.

Turkey and chicken contain a good source of mood enhancing tryptophan, an essential amino acid which is converted into serotonin - which can be low in people suffering from depression.

Regular tea and coffee drinkers may be confusing the mental boost apparently provided by their favourite cuppa with the affects of avoiding the unpleasant caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Caffeine dependency can be acquired with as little as two or three cups drunk daily.

Contrary to popular belief, tinned tuna is not a good source of omega-3 essential fatty acids as the canning process reduces the tuna's fat content.

Carbohydrate cravings may be a subconscious attempt to raise serotonin levels. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter, or brain chemical, responsible for mood, sleep and appetite control. It is made from a protein fragment called tryptophan and this is absorbed more quickly into the brain after eating a carbohydrate meal.

The rotation diet method for planning meals is highly recommended as a method for managing multiple food sensitivities. Its advantage is that you don’t need to cut out any problem foods completely. It can also be used to detect hidden food allergies and minimise the risk of developing new sensitivities.

Vitamin B6, vitamin C, Folic Acid (Folate) and Zinc are all essential good mood nutrients. They are needed to make the feel-good brain chemical serotonin from the tryptophan protein fragment that is found in foods such as meat, fish, beans and lentils.

Uncovering hidden food allergies can sometimes involve careful detective work. Some people with a sensitivity to chicken eggs may find that they also react to chicken meat. But in some people an egg sensitivity can been mistaken for what is in fact a reaction to the soya or corn that was originally fed to the chicken!

Caffeine increases mental alertness and concentration and can improve performance. However, too much caffeine (and this will be a different amount for each person) has been found associated with: anxiety, cravings, depression, emotional instability, insomnia, mood swings, nervousness and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

You can avoid the highs and lows of mood and energy associated with fluctuating blood sugar levels by choosing foods that are digested slowly. These foods have a low Glycaemic Index and include wholegrain rye bread, oats and basmati rice. High GI foods, which are best avoided, include french baguettes, water melons and instant white rice.

The romantic associations we have with chocolate may be due to the effects on the brain of a naturally occurring substance called phenylethylamine PEA. PEA can enhance endorphin levels, increase libido and act a natural antidepressant. Sugar can also increase levels of the body’s natural endorphins and chocolate bars often contains appreciable amounts of sugar. These mood-altering effects of chocolate may be why it is easy to become ‘hooked on’ chocolate.


Eating for mental health checklist

Low in potential food stressors

  • Low in additives
  • Low in refined/added sugar
  • Low in stimulants (chocolate/caffeine)
  • Hypoallergenic (e.g. wheat and dairy)


High in food supporters

  • Contains essential fats, particularly omega 3 food sources
  • High in complex carbohydrates (or low Glycaemic Index foods)
  • High in fruit and vegetables for vitamins and minerals
  • Contains protein

You can find out more about the Mind Meal and its good mood foods by reading the Food and Mood Handbook. A percentage of royalties from the sale of the Handbook are donated to the charity Mind.

© The Food and Mood Project, 2002.


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