Have you ever wondered if eating chocolate really makes you feel happier? Does food really influence your mood, and can a change of diet change your outlook? These are questions researchers have been pondering for decades, but just recently, they have found a new and exciting pathway.
Nutritional psychiatry is a new field of study dedicated to finding the correlations between what we eat and how we feel. These researchers study what foods and nutrients can affect such common mood states such as depression, as well as ADHD, schizophrenia, neurodegenerative disease, and other mental states. But just how can we change our mood through food?
What Makes a Mood?
Mood is affected by the neurotransmitters serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine. The production of these chemicals can be altered by certain chemicals found in our foods. But what are these chemicals, and what do they do?
Serotonin helps to regulate our appetite and sleep cycle, and works to mediate our moods. Our gastrointestinal tract produces about 95% of our serotonin, which is why gut health is so important. If our gut is not functioning properly, we will not produce enough serotonin, and this can result in depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, poor mental function, and fatigue.
Endorphins are those wonderful hormones that are released during activities such as exercise and sex. These neurotransmitters help to block pain, but they also trigger a good feeling in the body, similar to opiates like morphine.
The neurotransmitter dopamine controls the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. It helps us to focus and motivate us, and regulates our emotional responses. A lack of dopamine can result in fatigue, apathy, low libido, mood swings, and a feeling of hopelessness.
The levels of serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine can directly influence how we feel. A lack of sufficient amounts of these chemicals can induce depression and other low mental states. Our bodies produce these chemicals naturally but there are still ways we can influence the production.
Foods to Boost Mood
Eating a refined and unhealthy diet is a quick way to deprive your body of the essential nutrients it needs. Deficiency in B vitamins such as thiamine, niacin, and cobalamin, can lower serotonin levels possibly causing depression. Other vitamin deficiencies contributing to a low feeling include folate, selenium, iron, potassium, and zinc. Vitamin C is essential to producing endorphins, so a lack of this vital nutrient can seriously affect our good feelings.
Give your body what it does need by including foods that are healthy and nourish the production of essential mood neurotransmitters. These types of foods can include:
- Spicy foods that release endorphins, such as turmeric, cayenne, and sriracha
- Probiotics that support serotonin production, such as fermented foods, yogurts and microalgaes
- Omega-3 fatty acids that combat depression and bi-polar disorder, found in fish, walnuts, and flax and chia seeds
- Chocolate that contains phenylethylamine, which boosts endorphin levels
- Strawberries, oranges, and grapes that are high in vitamin C
- Nuts rich in B vitamins and selenium, such as Brazil nuts
- Pasta containing the amino acids tryptophan and L-phenylalanine that contribute to endorphin production
- Tyrosine rich foods that build dopamine, such as sesame seeds, oatmeal, bananas, apples, avocadoes, and watermelons
- B6 rich foods that help in producing serotonin, such as Shiitake mushrooms, turkey breast, tuna, pistachios, pinto beans, and sunflower seeds
- Organic fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, meats and fish to encourage overall health and reduce inflammation and oxidative stress on the body
Eating for your health will not only ensure proper organ and body function, but it can also help you to have a better outlook on life. Lifting your mood will not only stop the blues, it can help you focus on your goals, create better habits, and help to sustain a lust for life.