In times of stress or hardship, it can be tempting to reach for ‘comfort’ foods as an emotional crutch. Research shows that eating certain types of dark chocolate in times of stress can have a positive effect on mood, partly due to flavonoid antioxidants, which benefit brain and cardiovascular health.
Similarly, sugar activates the brain’s reward system – triggering the release of dopamine – creating feelings of pleasure. However, these are fleeting experiences that can’t be sustained long term. Research has emerged that explores potential links between excessive sugar consumption and depression and low-moods, although this is an area that requires further study.
Perhaps a more fulfilling strategy is to eat a balanced, healthy diet. A New Zealand study that tracked the diets and moods of 281 young adults over a three-week period found that subjects reported positive moods the day after eating increased levels of fruit and vegetables. Moreover, ‘meaningful changes’ were associated with the daily consumption of 7—8 serves of fruit and vegetables.
With that in mind, try to follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines and increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Foods you should limit or avoid entirely include refined cereals, fried snacks, cakes, biscuits, and alcohol.