Our brain is always on, taking care of our thoughts and movements, senses, breathing and heartbeat. It even works when we’re asleep. This means it needs a constant supply of fuel. And where do we get that? From the foods we eat, of course. What you eat has a direct effect on your brain functions and health and, ultimately, your mood.
Our brains work best when we get quality fuel. Food is no place to cut corners – eating high-quality foods that contain lots of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and prevents damage from stress.
Unfortunately, your brain can and does suffer because of your diet. If substances in processed or refined foods reach the brain, it can’t do much to get rid of them. Diets high in refined sugars are harmful as they limit your body’s regulation of insulin and promote oxidative stress (from free radicals) and inflammation. Many studies worldwide have found a link between impaired brain function and diets high in refined sugars, as well as mood problems and disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
If your brain lacks good-quality nutrients or if free radicals are damaging it, further deterioration is to be expected. The relatively new field of nutritional psychiatry is finding there are many ramifications and correlations between the food you consume, how you feel, and how you act, but also the varieties of bacteria that live in your gut.
How the foods you eat affect your mood
About 95% of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, appetite and mood and inhibit pain, is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, which is lined with a hundred million neurons. It follows logically that your digestive system doesn’t just help you digest food, but also regulates your emotions. Moreover, the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and the function of these neurons are highly contingent upon the billions of “healthy” bacteria in your gut. These bacteria play a key role in your health. They protect the lining of your big and small intestines and maintain a strong barrier against toxins and “unhealthy” bacteria; they activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain, limit inflammation and improve how well you absorb nutrients from your food.
Studies have shown that when people take probiotics – supplements containing the good bacteria – their moods improve, anxiety levels drop, and perception of stress takes a positive turn. Their outlook on life also improves, especially compared with people who did not take these supplements. There is scientific evidence that people who stick to the typical Australian and North American diet are around 30% more likely to suffer from depression than people on “traditional” diets, like the Mediterranean diet and the Japanese diet. Scientists attribute this difference to the fact that these traditional diets tend to be high in fish, seafood, vegetables, fruits, and unprocessed grainsand contain only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy products. They also exclude processed and refined foods and sugars, which are typical of the “Western” diet. In addition, many of these unprocessed foods are fermented, serving as natural probiotics. In fermentation, bacteria and yeast convert sugar in food to lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and alcohol. They protect food from spoiling and improve the texture and taste.
This may sound unbelievable to you, but solid scientific support of the ideais emerging that good bacteria not only affect the degree of inflammation throughout your body, but also influence what your gut digests and absorbs, and your mood and energy levels.
Pay attention to how eating different foods makes you feel
Starting paying attention to how food affects your mood. You’ll need at least a week to be able to tell. Avoid processed, sugary and starchy foods and add fermented foods like kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, or pickles. You could try cutting dairy out – a lot of people report experiencing an elevated mood when their diets are grain-free. See how you feel, then start (slowly)reintroducing the foods you excluded into your diet, one by one. Do you have mood swings? Do you feel differently?
Many of my clients report feeling much better, both physically and emotionally, when they switch to a clean diet. When they reintroduce inflammatory foods, they start feeling much worse. You have nothing to lose – give it a try! Without further ado, here are the top 10 foods to boost your mood!
You may have heard that carbs make you fat, but this actually isn’t true. Not only can they be healthy, they can also elevate your mood. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showedthat people who were on a very-low-carbohydrate diet for around a year—30 grams of carbs daily, about the amount in half a cup of rice and aslice of bread—started to suffer from depression, anxiety and anger, which was not observed in the people who were on a low-fat, high-carb diet over that same period of time. The second group focused on legumes, fruit, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. Carbs promote the production of serotonin in the gut. Another reason for the outcome of this study was to be found in the challenge of sticking to such a restrictive low-carb diet for a full year. Naturally, this caused mood disorders in a lot of these people.
If you’re feeling down in the dumps, go for a high-carbohydrate meal like healthy made sweet potato chips, bowl of fruit or chia pudding. You could also have some air-popped popcorn or a piece of whole bread with some honey. High-carbohydrate foods enable an amino acid called tryptophan to enter the brain, where it is converted into serotonin. However, if the food also contains a lot of fat and protein, this will inhibit the process. Protein-rich foods such as cheese and poultry suppress serotonin.
High-carb foodsalso curb cravings and inhibit pain. They will even improve the quality of your sleep,and very quickly at that.
Lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas and other legumes help stabilise blood glucose levels. They do this by preventing crashes later on in the day. If you add lentils to your lunch, yourenergy levels will increase and your mood will improve. A bowl of lentil soup with a slice or two of whole-grain bread make a perfect lunchtime meal. Chickpeas are a great side dish, but also make an excellent main course with a nice sauce.
Eggs are an amazing source of iron and protein. They also have a naturally high B-vitamin complex content, which is responsible for converting food into energy. Eggs offer a sustainable surge of energy, which will keep you going all day. You can eat them boiled on toast with vegetables like tomato and lettuce or try poached eggs with low-fat yogurt and garlic for dinner.
Kale is high in vitamins and minerals, one of the best vegetables you can power your body with. It gives a major energy boost. Kale contains copious amounts of essential minerals like iron, copper, potassium, and phosphorus. However, we don’t recommend eating it raw because it can be hard to digest and cause gas and bloating as a result. To get the most out of the mood-elevating benefits of this super vegetable, you’d best consume it cooked, or even baked into kale chips with coconut oil. This will ensure your body digests and absorbs all those healthy and crucial nutrients.
This is an obvious one. A recent study of close to 3,500 men and women published in the British Journal of Psychiatry showed that those who ate a diet rich in whole foods like fruit and veggies in the previous year were less prone to depression than those who ate lots of fried food, fast food, desserts, processed meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products. Previous studies link antioxidants in fruits and vegetables to lower risk of anxiety disorders and depression. Folate, a B vitamin found in citrus fruit, beans, and leafy greens like spinach affects neurotransmitters that influence your mood. The benefits of the whole-food diet may result from a cumulative effect of these nutrients. Bananas are especially recommended – they are one of the world’s best foods for supplying your body with energy because they have a very high potassium and vitamin B content. This guarantees a constant, stable release of energy. The supply of vitamins and carbohydrates in bananas slow down digestion, make you feel full, and keep blood sugar levels stable.
This isn’t a surprise either. What you didn’t know is that chocolate can actually be healthy! Studies show that eating dark chocolate in certain amounts ten days in a row reduces stress hormones, including cortisol. One of these studies was done at the Nestlé Research Center in Switzerland,so I was suspicious, but there are a few others that corroborate Nestlé’s findings. Chocolate’s beneficial effects come from its high antioxidant content of raw cacao. The intake should be limited to around 300 calories per day unless you don’t mind gaining a bit of weight.
Not all fish will improve your mood, and fried fish is as bad as anything else fried in this respect. I recommend eating oily, fatty fish like salmon, rainbow trout, tuna, and sardines as well as mussels and calamari. Try aim for wild caught to minimise heavy metal intake. These fish have a high omega-3 content—a key mood-boosting nutrient that your body doesn’t produce on its own. Omega-3 altersdopamine and serotonin release. Both these neurotransmitters are implicated in mood. Low levels of serotonin are linked with depression, aggression and suicidal tendencies, while dopamine is releasedby the brain in response to pleasurable experiences, such as eating good food or having good sex. The best fish to eat if you want to elevate your mood is salmon. It is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and guarantees lots of positive energy, enhanced brain activity and all-round improvement of cognitive function. It’s also very healthy for your heart. Another bonus is that it is really easy to cook and really filling on its own – it doesn’t need to be combined with a side dish. It takes minutes to prepare. And it’s worth its price.
Saffron is a delectable, pricey spice used mainly for cooking, but it’s great on its own too, as you’re about to find out. In a study at Tehran University of Medical Sciences, 50 women were given two (15 mg) saffron capsules or placebo capsules per day over two menstrual cycles. The outcome? The majority of women who had taken saffron reported that their mood swings and depression had declined compared with less than 10 percent of women in the control group. And this is just 15 mg, the equivalent of a pinch! Saffron is also known to have antidepressant effects, making serotonin available to the brain in higher quantities.
When you’re stressed, the smell of coconut slows your heart rate. This is exactly what happened to people who breathed in coconut fragrance in a small study at Columbia University – their blood pressure became lower more quickly after a strenuous task. Researchers believe that inhaling the pleasant scent of coconut enhances alertness and mitigatesstress response. Coconut oil is a very healthy source of energy as it is mainly comprised of medium chain triglycerides, a type of fat that is turned into energy fast and efficiently. Our bodies use coconut to produce energy.They don’t store it as fat. Coconut is also a great idea if you are sick of feeling sluggish throughout the day.
Finally, quinoa (pronounced keen-o-a) is a gluten-free grain native to South America. It contains more protein than any other grain or rice. Quinoa is high in amino acids, lysine, methionine and cysteine like many proteins, but unlike them, it can improve your mood. It is also high in folate, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese, making it a great choice of carbohydrates for lasting energy levels.
Try these foods and see if you feel any different. If not, maybe your perpetually low mood isn’t being caused by your diet – call me, Ashley Gilmour, and schedule an appointment to find out what the reason is!
Having trouble with getting on top of your low or depressed mood? or have a question or query? Contact Ashley your Gold Coast Psychologist via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07 55743888. We are more than happy to help you!