Perinatal Nutrition

Mood and Food - Nutrition During the Perinatal Period.

pregnant woman cutting food

It is now widely understood in the field of nutrition and psychiatry that the way we eat impacts our mood and mental health. 

Our diets also influence our gut flora/ microbiota, and we now know that our intestines produce most of our body’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter which at low levels is linked with depression. Food really is our best medicine! 

It’s also worth noting that there is a transfer of microbiota between mother and child during birth, and the majority of a person’s life-long gut flora develops in the first 1000 days of their life. Getting yourself and your baby acquainted with healthy food can shape the trajectory of both of your gut health and future cravings.  

Back in the 1950s it was first observed that heart disease occurred less in Mediterranean countries. Numerous studies since have confirmed that a Mediterranean diet not only decreases the risk of chronic health issues such as high blood pressure diabetes and stroke, but it also supports brain health and reduces the potential of depression. There is also evidence to suggest that women who follow the Mediterranean diet are 20% less likely to develop preeclampsia. 

The Mediterranean diet is based mainly around plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and extra virgin olive oil. Seafood, poultry, and dairy are eaten in moderation, and sweets and red meats are eaten only occasionally. 

Healthy fats are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can help reduce inflammation in the body. They include olive oil, and fatty fish, such as sardines, tuna, salmon, mackerel, and herring. 

Tips to support your mood with food 

  1. If you want to take inspiration from the Mediterranean diet, build your meals around vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. 
  2. Use olive oil instead of butter when preparing food 
  3. Serve fresh fruit for dessert. i.e., try swapping an ice cream with yoghurt sprinkled with toasted nuts and drizzled with honey. 
  4. Healthy food can be the same thing as delicious food, sometimes we just need to challenge our conditioning around this, expand our horizons and try new recipes/ ideas. 


Note: During pregnancy there are certain nutrients we need more of and a few foods to avoid. For more information on this you can consult:  

National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) brochure Healthy eating during your pregnancy 

The Psychology of Food 

If you’ve ever found yourself digging deep into a tub of ice cream after a bad day, you know that our mental health and eating habits are closely linked. 

Perfectionism is the enemy of any long-term meaningful change. If you’re planning on improving your diet, make sure you still give yourself plenty of enjoyment and rewards around food. If you plan these into your day you won’t end up in self-denial/ scarcity mode, which tends to result in total collapse of the plan/ binging further down the track. 

Slow things down. You can still enjoy treats. Eating smaller quantities of sugary foods and enjoying them more can go a long way to help you feel satisfied. Savoring food can be a great mindfulness practice. 

Create a new culture around healthy eating amongst your friends so you can support each other and learn to enjoy healthy food together. 


Further information: 

Food and mood centre

Harvard Health Publishing


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