Hippocrates, who said food is medicine, was on to something. Recently, research has caught up with his way of thinking and have realized that the foods you eat can actually affect your mood. In fact, certain foods can change your brain chemistry, physiology and structure. Food can influence the neurotransmitters in the brain. These neurotransmitters can increase or decrease your mood.
When it comes to the relationship between your mood and the food you eat, it is complex and depends on many things, including when you eat it, how much you eat, your health and the foods that are eaten together. Let’s take a look at some different foods and how they can affect your mood and brain activity.
- Complex Carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet and buckwheat, can help improve your mood due to the connection between carbohydrates and tryptophan. When tryptophan enters the brain, more serotonin is produced. Serotonin, a mood regulator, is produced from the tryptophan found in certain foods. Vitamin D and B vitamins help to naturally increase serotonin levels in the brain.
Tryptophan is found in protein-rich foods. Unfortunately, other amino acids found in protein-rich foods can cross the blood brain barrier. Eating more carbohydrates boost tryptophan levels by eliminating the competing amino acids.
- Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables contain fiber, vitamins and minerals. A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology reports that those who ate at least eight servings of vegetables and fruits each day are calmer, energetic and happier. The carbohydrates found in fruits and vegetables naturally increase serotonin levels. Furthermore, flavanols and antioxidants found in these whole foods can help improve cognitive functions and reduce the risk of depression.
Green leafy vegetables are rich in magnesium, calcium and folate. Magnesium is the anti-stress mineral; in fact, psychology today labeled magnesium as the original chill pill. Magnesium can help relieve anxiety, depression, irritability and restlessness. The electrical impulses in the nervous system require calcium to fire properly and send messages from the brain to the body. Finally, low levels of folate have been linked to depression and other psychiatric disorders. Folate supplementation has been shown to improve the outcome of psychiatric patients.
Fatty fish like tuna, sardines, rainbow trout and salmon contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 has been shown to improve serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. Meats, including poultry and other lean meats, are rich in tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin. In addition to tryptophan, meat contains thiamine and iron. Deficiencies in either of these can lead to depression, socialization issues and poor concentration.
Nuts like walnuts and almonds can improve your mood dramatically. One ounce of nuts increases serotonin levels in the body and contain omega-3 fatty acids to protect against a poor mood. Nuts also contain lignans that together with omega-3 fatty acids, can induce relaxation. Additionally, nuts are protein packed and can help regulate glucose levels. When glucose levels fluctuate, it can cause mood swings.
Seeds, including flax seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, contain many healthy nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, calcium, potassium and zinc. Zinc is a mineral that modulates the body and the brain’s response to stress. This amazing mineral is used by cells during communication. It is essential to cellular and nerve repair and provides neuroprotective properties.
- Dark Chocolate
Have you ever been blue and wanted chocolate? Chocolate reduces tension and increases mood due to anandamide, a psychoactive chemical. This chemical stimulates the brain and produces similar effects as amphetamine and cannabis. It helps to enhance the mood and relax the body. Furthermore, eating a little over an ounce of chocolate a day can help reduce your stress hormones thanks to chocolate’s antioxidants.
Stimulants, including caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, are the most widely used psychotropic drugs in the world. Many schizophrenia patients and those with other mental disorders, including bipolar disorder, depression, abuse these substances, according to the National Institutes of Health . Each of these substances can cause irritability, agitation and anxiety.
- Sweet and Starchy Foods
Although you may crave sweet and starchy foods when you are stressed out, you should avoid them as they can cause a spike in blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels, spike and then drop, the mood can be affected. When levels are high, the mood is often improved; however, when glucose levels decline, the mood can plummet.
- Fried Foods and Fatty Foods
Fried and fatty foods often contain refined carbs and trans fats. A report by Medicine Net reports that trans fat consumption has been linked to depression. In fact, eating trans fats can increase your risk of depression by 48 percent. These fats can cause inflammation in the body, including the brain.
- Soy Products
Soy products contain goitrogens which can negatively impact the thyroid and lead to fatigue, irritability and mood swings. Additionally, soy can prevent iron, magnesium and zinc from properly being absorbed by the body. The phytoestrogens in soy can cause mood swings in both men and women.
- Gluten Grains
Wheat, barley and rye contain gluten. For those with gluten sensitivity, grains containing gluten can cause a number of neurological disorders and behavioral problems, including anxiety, depression, poor memory and dementia. When a person has gluten sensitivity, inflammation occurs every time gluten is consumed. This inflammation can cause malabsorption, which prevents the body from absorbing the nutrients the brain needs to function properly.
Most people have experienced how food can affect their mood at one time or another. Whether it is feeling content, relaxed and sleepy after a Thanksgiving meal or stressed out and reaching for chocolate, most people realize that food can improve their mood. However, many people do not realize that certain foods (most of which are already considered unhealthy) can cause them to feel anxious, depressed or irritable. Learning which foods improve the mood and which foods can decrease the mood is essential to your emotional health and well-being. Choose whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates to help provide the body and brain with the nutrients needed to stay healthy and happy.