We all agree that what you eat can affect how you feel, right?
Our mental and brain health are complex. And how the foods we eat impact us is complex too. While we don’t know all the mechanisms of how food and nutrition create change in our bodies, we do know some ways that food and specific nutrients impact our moods.
- What we eat becomes the raw materials for our neurotransmitters (the biochemical messengers that allow our nerve cells to communicate – serotonin for example). Neurotransmitters are important not just for thinking and memory, but also for mental health.
- What we eat affects our blood sugar. And having unstable blood sugar levels can negatively contribute to mood swings.
- Some nutrient deficiencies can present as mental health problems. This includes deficiencies in B-vitamins, vitamin D, and the mineral selenium.
So, getting enough nutrients and antioxidants are key. They reduce inflammation and fuel the biochemical reactions in our bodies including those that create neurotransmitters. In fact, studies show that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables are the happiest.
But let’s not get overwhelmed and try to change everything at once!! Start by including this list of 5 foods and avoiding the 3 below and observe the difference in how you feel.
5 Foods to Eat
- BRAZIL NUTS: Selenium is an essential mineral for mental health. It is found in high quantities in Brazil nuts, walnuts, cod, and poultry. Try to add some of those to your weekly diet.
- PROTEIN: This is your body’s main supply of amino acids. Amino acids help your mood because they are the building blocks of neurotransmitters. Protein also helps to regulate blood sugar. I recommend eating protein with every meal; this includes dark green leafy vegetables, eggs, poultry, and meat.
- SWEET POTATO: Complex carbohydrates like sweet potato and quinoa are great. They allow 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.
- FISH: Fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids (nuts, seeds, and algae oil) are mood-boosting. Omega-3s are “brain food” and may help to ease some. NOTE: 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 35%!
- WATER: Make sure you’re hydrated. Mild dehydration can cause mood issues as well.
3 Foods to Avoid
- PROCESSED FOODS: 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! And don’t forget, sugar as an ingredient is processed, messes with your blood sugar and can worsen inflammation.
- ALCOHOL: It is a nervous system depressant
- CAFFEINE: This can worsen anxious feelings and ability to sleep
“But I like to eat processed foods!”
Yes, some of these mood busters can make you feel better temporarily. Some big food companies study how to maximize the “pleasure” centers with the perfect amount of sugar, salt, and fat. Not to mention the color, texture, and taste; they can light up our taste buds and make us feel good… for now.
The foods we eat are intertwined with our mood. Bad moods can lead to bad eating habits. And vice versa, bad eating habits can lead to bad moods. The same holds true for good moods and good eating habits. So, stick to minimally processed nutrient-dense whole foods and start yourself on a positive upswing. Things like fresh fruit and vegetables (including leafy greens), nuts and seeds, eggs, fish, poultry, and meat.
And avoid common mood-busting foods like alcohol, caffeine, and sugar. Those “feel good” junk foods, only make you feel good temporarily.
If you’re experiencing mood swings or irritability and are wondering if the foods you’re eating could be a factor, you may consider contacting a nutrition practitioner for help. Click here to book a free discovery call with Bonnie to discuss whether nutrition services could be right for you.