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6 Ways our Diet Impacts our Mood and Happiness (Backed by Science)


Is fast food dominating our eating habits? Our type of food consumption and preparation is heavily influenced by our culture. But it can be difficult to move away from the eating habits of our childhood. I was lucky to be raised on a relatively healthy diet, yet I have still made some drastic changes to my nutritional lifestyle. These changes have aligned me with my values and brought me deeper happiness. 

Education is key. How prevalent is healthy eating in society? How accessible is it? And more to the point, how desirable is it? The long-term benefits of a healthy diet are profound. Not only for our physical health but also for our mental health. How can I encourage you to reach for a handful of nuts instead of a chocolate bar? 

I’m not trying to suggest there is a one size fits all approach in terms of our eating habits. But I do want to showcase the role diet plays in our life. Here are 6 ways our diet impacts our mood, backed by science.

This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!

How does our diet influence our happiness? 

It all comes down to our well-being. And wellbeing is intricately linked to our health.

The World Health Organization defines health as:

A complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

WHO

I would like to amend this definition of health to include spirituality. Spirituality looks different for everyone. I believe it holds a huge influence on our eating habits. It certainly does with me.

It’s not all about calories


In order to function properly, our mind and body need certain nutrients. Now we all know about proteins, carbohydrates and fats. But do we know what our specific recommended daily allowances are? Do you know how many calories you should consume based on your own statistics and activity levels? 

Maybe it’s time to find out via this simple calories calculator. How does this marry up to how many calories you actually consume?

But it’s not all about calories. It’s about nutrient content. Not all calories are made equal. Let’s compare a portion of nuts with a chocolate bar. 

Let’s say the average chocolate bar contains 200 calories and is high in saturated fat and sugar.

Excessive saturated fat and sugar is bad for our health for various reasons. Put very simply, they increase our risk of:

  • Heart disease.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Weight gain.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Inflammation.
  • Mental decline. 

Whereas a portion of nuts contains 175 calories, is high in protein and fiber and contains other nutrients. These nutrients vary depending on the type of nut, but include vitamin E, potassium and magnesium. 

A chocolate bar and a portion of nuts may be similar calorie-wise, but they are worlds apart nutritionally. 

Is it really that big a deal if I don’t focus on my diet?

In a word, yes!

Would you be surprised if I told you there is a link between diet and the prevalence of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

This study found a link between children who were brought up eating fast food, copious amounts of sugar-infused foods and drinks with an ADHD diagnosis. 

But that’s not all. In fact, it’s not even the start.

This article is an exceptional synopsis of various scientific links between nutrient deficiencies on our mental health. Here are some of the findings. 

  • Diets low in carbohydrate precipitate depression.
  • A lack of certain amino acids in proteins can lead to low mood and aggression.
  • Omega-3 has a role in neural function and is linked with preventing depression.
  • B-complex vitamins help regulate mood and cognitive performance
  • Iron deficiency is linked to apathy, depression and fatigue.
  • Low selenium is linked with low mood and heightened anxiety.
  • Zinc levels are lower in people with clinical depression.

According to the American Dietetic Association, we either eat too little or too much when we are stressed or depressed.

Are you a comfort eater? Do you use food to soothe yourself? Sugary foods offer a quick feel-good factor. But this is short-lived and we are left to suffer the long-term effects of this lifestyle. 

Is veganism the answer? 

In my opinion, yes.

I am passionately vegan, which means I don’t eat any meat or dairy. I don’t consume anything that has animal derivatives in it. I am vegan for the animals, the planet and my health.

I am not here to convince you to adopt a vegan lifestyle. But I would love the opportunity to highlight the benefits. 

As humans, we are continually evolving and learning. Previously the gold standard meal consisted of meat and 2 veggies. Now, we have learned that red meat and processed meat is carcinogenic.

And yet, many people are still clinging to their burgers, steaks and sausages as if their lives depend on them, blind to any alternatives. 

I am healthier as a vegan than as an omnivore. The reason for this is the variety in my diet. I have had to educate myself on nutrition. I have opened my eyes to the provenance of food. I have awakened to the ethics of food production. I have cried countless tears over the cruelty of slaughterhouses and the dairy industry.  

Living a vegan lifestyle has enriched my world both spiritually and nutritionally.  

Are vegans happier?

Here at Tracking Happiness, we conducted a study in relation to veganism and happiness levels

Firstly, vegans report higher happiness levels than meat-eaters. Secondly, happier people are more likely to adopt a vegan lifestyle in the future. 

These results make sense to me. I am no longer part of the demand that supplies the cruelty in the meat and dairy industry. I have opened my world to experiment with different foods to invite a healthy and nutritious lifestyle. 

Being vegan has given me more energy, heightened my concentration, brightened my skin and has improved my gut health and digestion. 

Veganism has allowed me to live as kind and authentic a life as possible.

6 changes you can make to your diet to boost your mood 

Sometimes we aren’t even aware of the flaws in our diet.

We make excuses for our junk food. We sometimes express that we have “earned” it. But you are worth more than that. You have earned happiness, not junk. You deserve physical and mental well-being. 

Here are 6 simple tips to help you make small changes to your diet. This will help eliminate junk foods and focus on nutritionally rich foods. 

1. Keep a food diary 

Write down everything you eat for a week. Break this down into each meal and don’t forget to include any snacks. The results may surprise you. Were you aware of your habits? With this new knowledge, you are better placed to take ownership of your choices.

You can even build on this and create a food plan for the upcoming week. Write out what you plan to eat for your meals and what you can snack on. Replace your chocolate bar with dried fruit or nuts. Take control.

Being organized is key to success. 

2. Control your liquid 

Firstly please be kind to yourself and don’t drink too much caffeinated or alcoholic drinks. Both of these have an impact on your mental health.  Caffeine can exacerbate anxiety and alcohol is a depressant. 

Get in the habit of drinking at least 2 liters of water a day. Hydration has many benefits, including:

  • Regulates body temperature.
  • Keeps joints lubricated.
  • Prevents infections.
  • Delivers nutrients to cells.
  • Keeps organs functioning properly.
  • Improves sleep quality.
  • Improves cognition.
  • Improves mood.

3. Aim for 30 a week 

The recommendation of 5 pieces of fruit and vegetables a day has been superseded by a far superior suggestion.

Aim to eat 30 different plant-based foods a week. This includes fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, seeds and grains.

Not only does this help promote good gut bacteria, which is inextricably linked to our mental health. But it encourages nutritional variety in our diet, whilst minimizing the intake of processed junk. 

4. Be aware

Firstly, look at the labels. Be aware of what is in your food. In general, the smaller the list of ingredients the better the product is for your health.

Consider the origins of your food. Be aware of the processes involved to make it. Are any beings (human or animal) harmed in the production of your food? How do you feel about consuming food that has caused suffering? 

When we wake up to our consumption we have the power to make choices with our diets and lifestyle that closely align with our values. This has brought me a sense of indescribable inner peace. 

5. Change your snacks

Hell, we all love the odd donut or pack of chips. Who doesn’t enjoy candy? But it’s about moderation. We have gone from these food items being a treat to them being a daily habit. They are not healthy and they are dragging our mood down.

So switch it up. Consider nuts, dried fruit or fruit. Or why not get creative and make your own protein balls. Either way, less of the bad stuff will leave you feeling like you are the good stuff! 

6. Go on a food adventure 

Experiment. Get out of that old routine and try new foods. Try foods from around the world. Make something you have never cooked before.

Be a food wanderer. Only when we try different flavors and taste what is really out there will we recognize that giving up junk is not a sacrifice, but more a move to a more exciting nutrient-rich existence. 

Wrapping up 

It’s true what they say. We really are what we eat. We can eat our way to better mental health. And we can ingest food that helps elevate our mood. Take yourself on a food adventure and explore different culinary delights. Healthy food need not be tasteless and boring. After all, when we eat better, we live better. And when we live better we live happier. Here’s to a happy and nutritionally rich life.

Are you willing and able to make changes? Are you ready to align your values and health goals with your diet? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

ali wyllie portrait

Ali Hall

Writer

Kindness is my superpower. Dogs and nature are my oxygen. Psychology with Sports science graduate. Scottish born and bred. I’ve worked and traveled all over the world. Find me running long distances on the hills and trails.


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