You’ve probably noticed that certain foods make you feel sleepy. Some foods might give you gas or bloating. But, have you stopped to consider how your food affects your mood? Anger, frustration or plain old grumpiness can happen to the best of us. If you’ve ever felt that you need a mood boost, this article is for you!
When it comes to the health of the brain, things get pretty complex. The brain controls and is controlled by many different processes, hormones, neurotransmitters and nutrients. Our brains are very sensitive to chemicals and toxins, too, and they use up a good chunk of the glucose we get from food each day.
So, if you need a mood boost, it makes sense that what you’re eating could be a problem! We don’t know exactly how food and other mechanisms affect the brain, but we do know that people feel very differently depending on the foods they’ve eaten.
How Food Affects The Brain
Food nutrients are turned into the raw materials for our neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are biochemical messengers that allow our nerve cells to communicate. If you’ve ever heard of serotonin, you already know the name of at least one neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are important for thinking, memory and mood.
Another factor related to food that affects the brain is blood sugar. Because our brains use so much glucose at a continuous pace, especially when we’re concentrating, they are seriously affected by blood sugar imbalances. When you need a mood boost, perhaps you just need to manage blood sugar.
When You Need a Mood Boost
Many mental health problems are the result of nutrient deficiencies. Instead of examining a person’s diet, though, most people are put on mood-altering drugs to help correct or mask the symptoms of mental health issues.
For example, deficiencies in selenium, the B-vitamins, vitamin D or antioxidants can show up as mood disorders. Deficiencies in these nutrients can lead to inflammation of the brain and nervous system and decrease neurotransmitter creation.
However, studies are now showing that improving a person’s nutrition can reverse the symptoms of mental health and improve mood.
So, the first place to look when you need a mood boost is your diet!
Foods that Boost Mood
Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. People who eat more fruits and vegetables than other foods are typically happier. Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense and they contain a ton of antioxidants to help reduce free radical damage and inflammation.
B vitamins are found in leafy greens, whole grains, eggs, fish, nuts, most fruits and vegetables and healthy fats.
Vitamin D is harder to find in food, but you can get it through fortified products like milk. Some fish, like salmon, contain a small amount of vitamin D. The best way to get vitamin D, though, is to get outside and expose some skin to the sun! Respectfully, of course.
Selenium is found in Brazil nuts, walnuts, cod and poultry. Selenium is important for thyroid health, too, so it’s important to include foods rich in this mineral every week. Just 2 Brazil nuts a day can give you enough selenium to reach your recommended daily intake.
What Else Does Your Brain Need?
Your brain needs protein. Protein breaks down into amino acids through digestion. Amino acids are the building blocks of neurotransmitters. And protein is important to help maintain stable blood sugar. Eating protein with every meal and snack slows down glucose absorption and keeps blood sugar regular for longer periods. The brain does not like spikes in glucose followed by periods of low blood sugar – this will definitely make you need a mood boost!
Protein is found in many different foods, including meat, poultry, eggs, legumes, whole grains and minimally in vegetables. If you think you need more protein, supplement with a good protein powder.
Complex carbohydrates are very important for brain health when you need a mood boost. Sweet potato and quinoa help the body absorb tryptophan, which is an amino acid used to make serotonin and melatonin. If you need to calm down and relax before bed, these two foods make a great evening snack.
And, remember to stay hydrated. Even mild dehydration can cause some mood issues.
The Importance of Healthy Fats
I’m breaking out healthy fats because they are SO important when you need a mood boost!
Have you ever noticed that, when you’re sad or grumpy, comfort foods like ice cream, donuts or other fatty foods make you feel better? Well, this is because eating fat will make your feel less sad.
However, the wrong fats can then cause a blood sugar crash later on and strip away nutrients so it’s still better to avoid all types of junk food, no matter how much you’re craving it!
Instead, reach for healthy fats when you’ve got the blues. Healthy sources of fat include raw coconut, avocado, eggs, grass-fed/pasture-raised meats and high-fat dairy.
Of course, when you need a mood boost, salmon offers the best happiness fat around: omega-3 fats! Other sources of omega-3 fats include nuts, seeds and algae.
FUN FACT: 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 50%!
Foods to Avoid
You know that processed foods do very little for you nutritionally, right? In fact, one study suggests that eating a lot of processed foods can increase your chances of becoming depressed by 60%.
Processed foods strip your body of nutrients and cause blood sugar imbalances. They mess with your gut bacteria balance and pour toxins into your body to which your nervous system is very sensitive.
Certain food manufacturers know that these junky processed foods can make you feel temporarily better. They use this knowledge to maximize the pleasure centers of your brain with the perfect combination of sugar, salt and (unhealthy) fat.
In addition to processed foods, a few other things to avoid when you need a mood boost are:
- Alcohol, as it depresses the nervous system
- Caffeine, as it can worsen anxiety and interrupt sleep
- Sugar, as it strips your body of nutrients, messes up blood sugar, and promotes inflammation
When we feel down and need a mood boost, it’s easy to turn to unhealthy food. If our mood is constantly fluctuating, we develop bad eating habits over time. This, in turn, leads to more bad moods and eventually the cycle just keeps repeating itself.
When you need a mood boost, choose healthy, whole foods before reaching for the chocolate and muffins. Your brain loves fat, so eat healthy fats whenever you need a mood boost. Add 1 tablespoon of MCT oil to a smoothie for an excellent brain-boosting effect.