No question that what you eat can affect how you feel, right? So it makes sense to eat those foods that boost mood!
Mental health and brain health are complex. So are the foods we eat, and the ways our bodies interact with those foods. While, we don’t know the exact mechanisms how food and nutrition help, we know a few ways food impacts our moods.
First, what we eat becomes the raw materials for our neurotransmitters. “Neurotransmitters” are biochemical messengers that allow our nerve cells to communicate (ever heard of serotonin?). They are important not just for thinking and memory, but also for mental health.
Second, what we eat affects our blood sugar. And having unstable blood sugar levels can contribute to mood swings.
Let’s talk about mood-boosting and mood-busting foods.
Some nutrient deficiencies look like mental health problems; this includes deficiencies in B-vitamins, vitamin D, and the mineral selenium. So, getting enough vitamins, minerals, (and other things like antioxidants) are key. These nutrients not only reduce inflammation but also fuel the biochemical reactions in our bodies. Including those that create neurotransmitters. So make sure you’re eating a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. In fact, studies show that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables are the happiest.
First and foremost pay special attention to vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin), as it’s not naturally occurring in too many foods. During the winter months when exposure to sunlight is significantly reduced it may be advisable to supplement with vitamin D. Some mood disorders like seasonal affective disorder can be greatly improved through vitamin D supplementation. Similarly, selenium is an essential mineral found in Brazil nuts, walnuts, cod, and poultry. Try to add some of those foods to your weekly diet. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common with the typical North American diet, so be sure to eat a wide range of fresh foods and supplement to fill in the gaps.
Second, make sure you get enough protein. Protein is your body’s main supply of amino acids. Amino acids are very important for mood issues because they are the building blocks of neurotransmitters. Protein also helps to regulate blood sugar. I recommend eating protein with every meal; this includes eggs, poultry, other meats, and dark green leafy vegetables. The other advantage of eating protein spaced throughout the day is that it keeps muscle protein synthesis active, protecting lean muscle and boosting metabolism.
Third, look to getting complex carbohydrates like those found in sweet potato and quinoa. Consuming these alongside proteins allow for better absorption of key amino acids like tryptophan. Tryptophan is used by your body to make serotonin (your “happy hormone”) and melatonin (your “sleepy” hormone). So, if you want to relax, try these in the evening.
Fourth, ensure you are consuming fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids (nuts, seeds, and algae) as they are also mood-boosting. Omega-3s are definitely “brain food” and may help to ease some symptoms associated with poor mood.
Fifth, be sure to avoid artificial sweeteners! Artificial sweeteners are praised for their ability to keep calories minimal while providing that sweet taste people crave. However, artificial sweeteners kill healthy gut bacteria in the gut. The bacteria of the gut is where the majority of serotonin (your feel good hormone) is made.
Sixth, take a probiotic and eat prebiotic foods. As already mentioned, serotonin is produced in the gut, and having healthy gut flora is linked to more than mood. The bacteria in the gut are responsible for converting much of what we eat into what our body needs to stay healthy. We have a symbiotic relationship with our gut bacteria and when the balance is disturbed it leads to many health concerns and disease.
FUN FACT: One study showed that giving one multi-vitamin and one omega-3 fish oil tablet per day to prison inmates reduced the incidence of violent behavior by 50%!
Last but not least, make sure you’re hydrated. Mild dehydration can cause mood issues as well.
You won’t be surprised to hear me say processed foods are mood-busters, right? One study suggests that eating a lot of processed foods devoid of nutrients can increase your chances of becoming depressed by as much as 60 percent! This is on top of the research that shows nutrient deficiencies can look like mental health problems.
“But it makes me feel good!”
Yes, some of these mood busters can make you feel better temporarily. Many big food companies study how to maximize the “pleasure” centers with the perfect amount of sugar, salt, and fat. (Read Michael Moss, Pulitzer Prize winning author’s book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us for more on this topic). Not to mention the color, texture, and taste; they can light up our taste buds and make us feel good… temporarily at least.
A few other things to avoid are:
- Alcohol (nervous system depressant)
- Caffeine (may worsen anxious feelings and ability to sleep)
- Sugar (messes with your blood sugar and can worsen inflammation).
- Artificial sweeteners and flavours (can destroy healthy gut flora)
Poor moods can lead to bad eating habits; and, bad eating habits can lead to bad moods. If you need a mood boost, stick to minimally processed nutrient-dense whole foods. Things like fresh fruit and vegetables (including leafy greens), nuts and seeds, eggs, fish, poultry, and meat. Avoid common mood-busting foods like alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and artificial sweeteners.
And remember, sometimes “feel good” junk foods, only make you feel good temporarily. So, try my newest recipe for fruit salad, below.
If you’re already eating well and following the advice in this blog, but are still suffering from mood problems please seek out medical attention. While mood disorders are common these days, they’re not normal!
Recipe (mood boosting): Fruit Salad
1-2 cups of the following fruits:
- watermelon, cubed
- cantaloupe, cube
- blueberries, fresh
- blackberries, fresh
- green grapes
Place all fruit in a large bowl and gently toss.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Substitute or add any ready-to-eat fruit, like chopped peaches, or raspberries. Use local, seasonal fruit whenever possible!