It’s true. I get in moods. There I said it. I’m not always happy go lucky, smiley smiley, loving life, keeping to my routine or schedule. I get angry, down, frustrated, irritable. It happens to the best of us. Lets be honest.
What is interesting is the ongoing research linking our brains and gut . What you eat really can affect your brain and subsequently emotions, feelings, thoughts and behaviour. There is a lot bigger connection between our brain and our gut than we first thought and our gut is often referred to as “the second brain”.
What you eat can cause reactions in your gut, for example; inflammation, ‘leaky gut syndrome’, ‘IBS’, abdominal pain, bloating, nausea. Not only that, but psychological factors like stress, burn out, anxiety, worry, disappointment can also cause cramping and digestive pain, which in turn can affect the brain. If then these physical and psychological factors can have a negative affect on the brain, then surely then can be a positive outcome as well. Learning to manage stress, anxiety and worry can put a block on affecting the brain with negative responses, so too can what we eat. So instead of getting beaten and moping on the couch, or working up an angry sweat – which are sometimes both very legitimate and useful responses – I’ve recently decided to try and eat ‘mood foods’. Foods which are said to have mood enhancing affects through their nutritional properties.
Here is a list, from research, of mood enhancing foods.
Dark chocolate, yes lets start with the one we all want to hear, but lets make it at least 70 percent cocoa. The cocoa gives you an instant boost in mood and concentration, and helps to improve blood flow to the brain by relaxing blood vessels. It is high in minerals such as potassium, zinc, selenium, iron, copper and manganese. 50 grams (roughly the size of a square) a day should do it. It has also recently been revealed that dark chocolate can actually reduce your stress hormone cortisol. This is important as cortisol is a strong stimulant for heart and blood vessels and is a part of the trio of stress hormones.
Avocados are loaded with B vitamins, which your body needs to maintain healthy neuronal activity and brain cells. Folate, which your body needs for cell repair, and potassium which helps control blood pressure. They are high in fat, but lets call them skinny on the fat as they are high in monounsaturated fat which is good for improving blood cholesterol levels. Fat is also needed to absorb nutrients such as vitamin A, K, E and D which are only absorbed through fat. Stick to the skinny on the fats though, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish, such as salmon and trout, can protect your heart from surges in stress hormones. Fish such as cod, salmon, halibut, tuna and snapper are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that naturally raises serotonin levels. 100 grams of fatty fish at least three times a week should do the trick.
Dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard, collards, arugula, lettuce are rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium. Calcium helps your body maintain its circadian rhythm (physical, mental and behavioural changes roughly following a 24 hour ryhthm), and potassium and magnesium are minerals which help over stressed muscles. Magnesium also helps produce energy, in the mitochondria, which is your bodies energy currency.
Walnuts are the richest nuts in omega-3 fatty acids which help fight inflammation, they also help replace B vitamins. Brazil nuts push up your zinc levels (also drained by high anxiety), almonds boost vitamin E (which helps fight cellular damage linked to chronic stress) and contain most fibre, pistachios are full of potassium which is essential for your nervous system and muscles. Cashews are particularly high in iron and zinc. Iron helps deliver oxygen to all your cells, zinc is critical to immune health which can also be affected by your mood. All in all, nuts are pretty much an all round winner. They do, however, contain a lot of fat so don’t go too crazy.
All complex carbohydrates prompt the brain to make more serotonin. Serotonin is the feel-good chemical in the brain. Complex carbs also help you feel balanced by stabilizing blood sugar levels as they release energy slower. Try eating sweet potato, steel cut oats, corn, whole grains, beans and lentils for slow release complex carbs.
Omega -3 fatty acids
Salmon is a great source of the energy-boosting goodness which comes from omega-3 fatty acids, these are important for energy production, brain activity and circulation. On a side note, it’s also great for maintaining heart health! You just can’t go wrong with a nice piece of salmon.
Tryptophan helps create serotonin which is one of the brains primary mood-regulating neurotransmitters. Low energy levels have a major effect on your mood and can make you feel sluggish and down. So boosting your tryptophan levels with asparagus, turkey, tofu, lentils and red meat could help boost your levels in more way than one.
B12 and folic acid
B12 helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and folic acid helps your body produce and maintain new cells. Beef and liver and the best source of B12, and dried beans, peas and lentils are a great source for folic acid. Folic acid is a B vitamin and like B12 it helps to support the body’s energy metabolism process. I’m sure we’ve all experienced how low energy can affect our moods and if it’s not being metabolised efficiently energy levels can worsen.
Chromium helps metabolise food and regulate insulin. It also helps raise the brains level of serotonin, norepinephrine, and melatonin which help regulate emotion and mood. Great sources are broccoli, turkey and whole wheat.
Selenium plays a key role in metabolism, brain function and has antioxidant properties which protect cells from damage. Having low levels of it can lead to depression, anxiety, irritability and fatigue. Brazil nuts, liver, oysters, and tuna are all high in selenium.
Builds strong bones by enhancing calcium absorption, supports a healthy immune system and muscle health. Vitamin D can be found in a good old dose of sunshine, fortified eggs, cod liver oil, salmon and sardines.
For more tips on minerals check out this link.
Being sleepy, other than at bed time, is quite frankly a nuisance. Try some of these foods to help put your tiredness at bay; avoid processed foods, eat fresh, avoid caffeine, eat lean proteins like chicken and fish, choose complex carbs such as oats, sweet potato, corn and rice. Nuts provide energy and fight hunger. Dehydration can also lead to tiredness so before anything have a glass of water, then try nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables. Do these steps before reaching for simple sugars as in the long run that will have a worse effect.
Serotonin and dopamine are generally the hormones which need boosting when you’re feeling blue. Carbs can be a great way of doing this as they can prompt the brain to make serotonin. However, too many carbs can create an insulin rush so mixed with protein they can increase dopamine levels but without the insulin spike. I also find that a good old bar of chocolate, preferably with almond butter on it also does the trick for me! We’ve all just read the health effects of chocolate above, it’s legit!
Put down the mug and step away from the caffeine and sugar. Caffeine, for some, is a stimulant whilst for others, like myself, it can make them irritable. If you’re in the irritable camp, caffeine and sugar sound like a dream, but really they’re a nightmare. Try and cut it out for two weeks and if you feel calmer slowly add it back in and watch how you react.
The oils that are found in coconut provide a nutritious source of energy as it primarily consists of medium chain triglycerides, a type of fat that is turned into energy quickly and efficiently. Coconut is utilized by the body to actually produce energy rather than store it as fat. That’s what we want! Coconut is an awesome food to prevent you from feeling sluggish throughout the day.
Cultures that eat foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids have been found to have lower depression rates, salmon and walnuts are particularly high in omega 3. Also try boosting your serotonin levels by eating more tryptophan found in turkey. Theanine is an antioxidant found in green tea and has been shown to have depression fighting properties. Turmeric can also boost your mood with its anti-inflammatory properties. This last point is important as a recent study has found links between depression and inflammation.
That green tea I just spoke about, well the theanine also helps regulate stress, mood, and muscle relaxation. So get drinking! Although if it’s past 3 pm, maybe choose a decaf green tea so the caffeine won’t impair your sleep.