If you’ve ever gone on a diet you’ll know that food can affect your mood. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that denying yourself the foods you love will make you unhappy but what about the types of foods you eat, did you know these can affect your mood too?
Some foods contain natural mood boosters that can help improve your mood and make you feel good, something we all are in short supply of as the weather gets colder and the days become shorter.
So what are these mythical mood-boosting foods and how does it work?
Food & Mood – Serotonin
Serotonin is a chemical found in the body that sends nerve signals between cells, helping to transmit information across the nervous system. It’s essential for our physical and mental health; it can help reduce depression and anxiety, maintain healthy bones and aid in the healing process of damaged tissue. Serotonin also helps regulate our sleeping patterns and aids the digestion process.
Because serotonin is essential for stabilising our moods it’s often referred to as ‘the happy hormone.’ We can help boost our serotonin levels by eating lots of foods that contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which helps the body naturally produce more serotonin.
What Foods Contain Tryptophan?
- Pumpkin and sesame seeds
Make sure you’re getting enough of these foods on a daily basis and try to incorporate them into as many meals as you can. A great idea is to swap beef mince for turkey mince which is lower in fat and full of tryptophan and sprinkle pumpkin and sesame seeds into cereals and salads.
Food & Mood – Protein
Protein is another great source of amino acids and can be found in animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. Make sure you’re getting enough protein on your plate spread out throughout the day. If you are vegan or vegetarian other non-animal protein sources are:
Vitamin B12 And Your Mood
Vitamin B12 is essential in creating red blood cells, helping to release energy from food and keeping the nervous system healthy. When we’re not getting enough vitamin B12 we find we become extremely tired and our energy levels plummet. We can become depressed and confused and we might find we have mouth ulcers and trouble with our vision.
To make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B12 eat a lot of the following foods:
- Fortified cereals
Good Gut Health
Your gut is often referred to as your second brain and that’s because it’s full of nerve endings that send signals all around your body. It can work independently from your brain, spinal cord and nervous system which explains why we have ‘gut instincts’ about certain things or situations.
Having a healthy, happy gut has been proven to affect your mood; that’s because some bacterias in the gut produce neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine. These affect our mood, anxiety, concentration levels and how we respond to rewards and motivation.
To keep your gut healthy make sure you’re eating lots of the following foods:
- Lots of fresh veggies
You can learn more about the link between gut health and mental health here.
Hydrated brains are happy brains so make sure you’re drinking at least 6-8 glasses of water a day. When you’re dehydrated you might find it hard to concentrate on things, you can become tired, irritable and you might find you’re suffering from headaches and constipation (neither of which will put you in a good mood!)
Keep a water bottle on hand at all times and don’t forget to keep refilling it throughout the day. You can set reminders in your phone or download an app that reminds you to drink more water.
Other fluids like juices, tea and coffee will also keep you hydrated but remember these are likely to contain sugar and caffeine which can negatively affect your mood and diet.
Food & Mood – What To Avoid
There are some foods and drinks that we should enjoy in moderation.
- Caffeine – Limit how much caffeine you consume on a daily basis. Caffeine is a stimulant so although the initial hit will give you a quick burst of energy you could feel anxious and depressed as it wears off. Try and drink decaffeinated tea and coffee and pay attention to hidden caffeine in soft drinks
- Alcohol – Alcohol is a depressant which means that while it initially might make you feel relaxed it can also make you feel depressed, anxious and stressed. Limit how much alcohol you drink and try not to drink more than 14 units a week
- Sugar – Although sugar increases our energy as our blood sugar levels drop so does our mood. You can read more about the effect of sugar on our mental health here. If you’ve got a sweet tooth try and favour natural sugars or sugar-free alternatives.
It’s important to remember that lots of things can affect our mood and while eating a balanced and healthy diet full of mood-boosting foods is a great idea if you’re feeling particularly blue and nothing seems to be helping then please do reach out to someone you trust or your GP.
Think of your body like a car that needs the right fuel to keep it running; if we fill it with high-calorie foods that are nutritionally empty then we’re not going to function correctly. Try and favour whole, balanced foods that will keep your gut healthy, your brain happy and your body fighting fit.