Mood Food: Does Good Food = Good Mood?

You know by now that there is a direct link between your mood and your eating behaviour. So, if you’re feeling a bit stressed or low, you’re more likely to reach for unhealthy comfort foods like cake or biscuits to try and make yourself feel better. You  also probably know that such foods will make you temporarily feel better while you’re eating them but you’re likely to feel worse soon after.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can switch things around to your advantage. Yes, your mood affects your choice of food, but, did you know that your choice of food also affects your mood?

What if I told you that by eating certain foods, you could not only improve your mood but also build your bodies resistance to stress and feel more energetic, alert and motivated? Sound good?

The key to understanding the connection between the food we eat and our mood lies in understanding a little about how the brain functions. The brain communicates by chemical substances (neurotransmitters) passed from one nerve cell to the next. Most neurotransmitters are made from amino acids obtained from the protein in food you consume.

One of the neurotransmitters that is most sensitive to diet and influential in affecting mood is serotonin, also known as the ‘happy hormone’. Our bodies produce serotonin from an amino acid called tryptophan which comes directly from food. So, it makes sense that we need to eat certain foods to create such essential neurotransmitters.

Serotonin is a calming and relaxing chemical. When produced in the right amounts, feelings of stress and tension decrease, and our sleep cycle is regulated. If our serotonin levels are low, we are likely to experience low mood, irritability, anxiety, apathy and poor sleep.

A Serotonin deficiency can be brought on by many factors including hormonal fluctuations, stress, imbalanced blood sugar and nutritional deficiencies. So, you can see how important eating the right nutrients is to managing your mood and anxiety levels.

Diet plays a crucial role in assisting our bodies to handle the stresses of modern life. Prolonged stress literally drains and depletes vitamins and minerals from our bodies which can lead to nutritional deficiencies and leave us open to low mood and anxiety.

The good news is that there is plenty you can do to boost your mood naturally and build your bodies resistance to stress. Addressing your diet is a great place to start. Whether you only feel blue from time to time or are prone to low mood or anxiety, eating a diet high in ‘good mood foods’ and low in ‘ mood zapping foods’ can go a long way to balancing how you feel both physically, mentally and emotionally. Of course exercise, good sleep and stress management all play crucial roles too.

Below are several steps you can take to boost your mood and build your bodies resistance to stress:

Choose slow release carbohydrates – Carbohydrates allow your brain to produce serotonin. Fast release carbohydrates will give you a quick serotonin boost but will also wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels. Slow release carbohydrates on the other hand (e.g. oats, brown rice, legumes and vegetables) will encourage slow and steady serotonin production without the blood sugar highs and lows.

Get your B Vitamins – B vitamins play a crucial role in the production of serotonin. Prolonged stress or anxiety can easily deplete our body stores of these vitamins leaving us open to low mood and anxiety so it’s important that we consume foods rich in B vitamins on a daily basis. Slow release carbohydrates such as oats, brown rice, legumes and vegetables are excellent sources of B vitamins and magnesium both of which enhance serotonin production and support the body during times of stress.

Boost your Omega 3 intake – Omega 3 fatty acids naturally increase a potent mood lifting, anti-depressant neurotransmitter in our brain, called dopamine. Omega-3 fatty acids are also hypothesized to affect the functionality of serotonin in the brain by slowing its breakdown. People with low serotonin levels commonly have low DHA levels, which is an essential building block in the brain, and which needs to be replenished with foods such as oily fish which are high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Boost your omega 3 intake by regularly consuming the following foods: Oily Fish –  such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, kipper, herring and tuna. Nuts & Seeds – especially walnuts, flaxseed, hemp and chia seeds.

Ensure adequate Vitamin D – The connection between Vitamin D deficiency and low mood is well established. Very few of us living in the northern hemisphere get enough sunlight for our bodies to make adequate vitamin D (which is made in the skin directly), or eat enough vitamin D in our diets and this is known to be a critical factor in mood disorders. I would encourage you to consider taking a vitamin D supplement during the winter months and consistently eat vitamin D rich foods such as eggs, green leafy vegetables and oily fish.

Increasing your exposure to daylight also helps. Try to get at least 30 minutes day light every day. Doing some exercise outdoors is ideal as both daylight and exercise are known to boost serotonin levels.

Limit Stimulants – A diet high in stimulants such as sugar, caffeine and alcohol can cause sugar highs and sugar lows which in turn affects our mood. Excess caffeine, sugar or alcohol consumption can also rev up stress hormones in the body and deplete our body of crucial B vitamins and magnesium. So, the first step in balancing mood is to balance your blood sugar by reducing your intake of stimulants

Good Mood Foods:

  • Turkey
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Brown Rice
  • Oats
  • Oily Fish
  • Nuts/Seeds
  • Beans/Lentils
  • Green Leafy Vegetables

Sample ‘Good Mood’ diet, sample menu

Breakfast: Poached eggs on a slice of rye toast

Snack: Handful of nuts with a piece of fruit

Lunch: Tuna, chick pea & rocket  salad

Snack: Cottage Cheese with blueberries

Dinner: Stir fried turkey & veggie stir fry served with brown rice