- Mental Health
Foods to Eat for Better Mood
Have you ever wondered why you suddenly crave for ice cream, pizza and junk food when you're tired, stressed or down in the dumps? It's because your body naturally knows that food can help improve your mood!
Of course, sugary, processed food aren't the most healthful food to eat, but our body knows that carbohydrates are a quick fix for the blues. Fortunately, we're smarter than our bodies, and we can train it to reach for more healthful, complex carbs as well as other foods that contain vitamins, amino acids and-- hey-- fatty acids that are essential for good mood. In fact, some patients suffering from clinical depression have recovered just by altering their diet alone!
So what foods do we need to eat to improve our mood? Better yet, what components of food make us happy?
As mentioned earlier, carbohydrates play a role in mood improvement. Carbohydrates boost mood by promoting relaxation and providing more easily accessible energy in the form of sugar, which carbohydrates get broken down into.
Of course, complex carbohydrate sources such as brown rice, whole wheat bread or pasta are much better than simple carbohydrates that come from refined grain products like white bread and white rice or flat-out sugar-rich foods like candies and soda. This is because complex carbohydrates raise your blood sugar levels more slowly and gently. In contrast, you may have noticed going on "sugar crashes" after eating a lot of simple carbs, and you know that sugar crashes don't do your mood any favors!
As well, carbohydrates are essential to the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin, and when serotonin levels are increased, mood is elevated. Some antidepressants like Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil and Lexapro work on the same principle by acting as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) and increasing the available serotonin in the brain.
Good Sources of Complex Carbohydrates
- Whole wheat bread or pasta
- Brown rice and whole grains
You must be wondering, "but where do I get tryptophan?" Tryptophan is an amino acid that is found in soy products such as tofu and soymilk, flax seeds, sesame seeds, almonds and eggs. Self.com has a list of foods highest in tryptophan that you may want to check out.
While meats are a good source of tryptophan, meat contains a high amount of other amino acids that block the flow of tryptophan to the brain. Sesame seeds, almonds and tofu, do not have as much of those other amino acids so they are the best best to increase tryptophan levels in the brain.
Good Sources of Tryptophan
- Sesame seeds
- Tofu, soymilk and soy products
- Flax seeds
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
While we're still in the brain, let's talk about Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are best known for their role in improving heart health. However, omega-3 fats play an essential role in mental health as well!
Omega-3 fats aid in the proper function of brain cells and neurotransmitters. Translated, this means that all the serotonin you've converted from tryptophan with the aid of carbohydrates will actually be utilized and thereby improve your mood!
Omega-3 is usually associated with fish, but you may be surprised that flax seed contains Omega 3 too! Do you remember that flax seeds are high in tryptophan as well? Maybe there's a reason why flax seed has been garnering a great deal of attention.
Good Sources of Omega-3
- Fish (Salmon, Tuna, Herring, Mackerel, Sardines)
- Flax seeds
B-COMPLEX VITAMINS (B12, CHOLINE) AND FOLIC ACID
Like Omega-3, Choline aids in proper neurotransmitter function. Lack of choline has been linked to poor memory, lack of concentration and Alzheimer's. (Here are other ways to give Alzheimer's the slip.) Eggs contain both tryptophan and choline.
Good Sources of Choline
- Flax seeds
- Sesame Seeds
It may seem unrelated, but Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid are essential to the proper functioning of red blood cells. A deficiency in either or both can lead to anemia, which has been linked to mood worsening. As well, low levels of folic acid has been linked to a decrease in serotonin levels and depression.
A single cup of spinach or a serving of orange juice alone contains enough folic acid to possibly enchance mood, while you can get vitamin B12 from liver and fish.
Good Sources of Folic Acid
- Whole wheat products
Good Sources of Vitamin B12
Just by eating the right foods, you can boost your mood and become a happier, healthier person. As you may have noticed, foods like eggs, fish and flaxseed contain a combination of the vitamins, amino and fatty acids essential for a better mood so maybe next time, instead of reaching out for a pint of ice cream or ordering a pizza, you might want to consider eating some egg, fish or flaxseed. The switch will probably be hard, but you'll end up being in a better mood, and you'll get to save yourself from all the calories and bloat junk food gives you-- sometimes, that alone can make you feel better!