Does what we eat and when we eat it really affect our mood? A lot of us are concerned with what we put in our mouths with the goal of not gaining extra weight, but it’s important to recognise the emotional effects food has as well.

You may find foods such as chips, soft drink and lollies appealing when your motivation and energy are lacking. However, packaged and processed foods are high in unwanted food additives and preservatives that disrupt the healthy bacteria in the gut and affect your serotonin levels. What you may not have realised is that 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut which directly connect to our brain and influence our mood.

Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel. If substances from “low-premium” fuel (such as what you get from processed or refined foods) get to the brain, it has little ability to get rid of them.’ Eva Selhub MD, Author at Harvard Health Publishing has shared.

Traditional diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, tend to be high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, seafood, and contain modest amounts of lean meats and dairy. This type of nourishment has been found as healthy and balanced as it avoids inflammation-producing foods like processed or refined foods and sugars, which are now staples of the “Western” dietary pattern. Most unprocessed foods are fermented, and therefore act as natural probiotics, which aid ‘gut health’ and from a recent study, suggests may be protective against depression. It is generally easier to stick to a healthy diet when you are feeling well, which in turn helps you to continue to feel well.

Keeping hydrated also helps you to feel more alert and productive, so as much as we speak about food, it is also important to drink your 2L of water a day!

A better diet can help avert depression, but it’s not the sole assistant if you are already depressed. It’s important to consider that just like you cannot exercise out of a bad diet, you also cannot eat your way out of feeling depressed or anxious. If you feel like you may be experiencing depression, it’s important that you seek professional help.

Start paying attention to how eating different foods makes you feel — not just in the moment, but the next day. Try eating a balanced diet for two to three weeks and see if you notice a difference. Then slowly introduce foods back into your diet, one by one, and you’ll be more aware of how food can affect your emotions.