No question that what you eat can affect how you feel, right?
Mental health and brain health are complex. So are the foods we eat, and the ways our bodies interact with those foods. While, we don't know the exact mechanisms how food and nutrition help, we know a few ways food impacts our moods.
First, “you are what you eat” isn’t just a tired old wives tale. What we eat literally becomes the raw materials for every cell in our body, including our neurotransmitters. “Neurotransmitters” are the messengers that allow our nerve to communicate (ever heard of serotonin or dopamine?). They are important not just for thinking and memory, but also for mental health. Many of these neurotransmitters are our brain’s happy juice.
Second, what we eat affects our blood sugar. And having unstable blood sugar levels can contribute to mood swings. Blood sugar is like the junior high of our mind. It can contribute to some high highs and some very low lows. If it is not controlled you are first in line for the roller coaster of emotion, and that can be one scary ride.
Let’s talk about mood-boosting and mood-busting foods.
“HAPPY JUICE” FOODS
Nutrient deficiencies are no laughing matter. Some can be so intense that they start to look like mental health problems; this includes deficiencies in B-vitamins, vitamin D, and the mineral selenium. So, getting enough vitamins, minerals, (and other things like antioxidants) are key. These nutrients not only reduce inflammation but also fuel the biochemical reactions in our bodies. Including those that create neurotransmitters. So make sure you're eating a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. In fact, studies show that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables are the happiest. (Plus that fibre keeps you regular, and I’ve never met a happy person who was constipated).
Also pay special attention to vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin), as it’s not naturally occurring in too many foods. Selenium is an essential mineral found in Brazil nuts, walnuts, cod, and poultry. Try to add some of those to your weekly diet.
Let’s talk protein. Protein is your body's main supply of amino acids. Most people think about muscle gains when they think about amino acids, but these guys aren’t just for making you “swole”. Amino acids are very important for mood issues because they are the building blocks of neurotransmitters. Protein also helps to regulate blood sugar. I recommend eating protein with every meal; this includes dark green leafy vegetables(WHAT? Veggies have protein? Mind. Blown), eggs, poultry, and meat.
Complex carbohydrates like sweet potato and quinoa are great too. They allow better absorption of key amino acids like tryptophan. Tryptophan usually credited for making you fall alseep after turkey dinner, is used by your body to make serotonin (your “happy hormone”) and melatonin (your “sleepy” hormone). So, if you want to relax, try these in the evening.
Fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids (nuts, seeds, and algae) are also mood-boosting. Omega-3s are definitely “brain food” and may help to ease some anxiety and depression symptoms.
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%! I am pretty sure they did a whole OITNB episode about it. Pretty sure Mendoza convinced a guard to sneak fish oils in up the keister. Spoiler alert.
Last but not least, make sure you’re hydrated. Mild dehydration can cause mood issues as well.
“DEBBY DOWNER” FOODS
You won’t be surprised to hear me say processed foods are mood-busters, right? One study suggests that eating a lot of processed foods devoid of nutrients can increase your chances of becoming depressed by as much as 60 percent! This is on top of the research that shows nutrient deficiencies can look like mental health problems.
“But it makes me feel good! Poutine is life.”
Yes, some of these Debby Downer foods can make you feel better temporarily. Some big food companies study how to maximize the "pleasure" centers with the perfect amount of sugar, salt, and fat. Not to mention the color, texture, and taste; they can light up the center of our brain that responds to cocaine and make us feel good… for now. But what usually happens after the “high”? What comes up must come down. That’s where we get the crash, in mood and energy. It is not a coincidence that these crashes resemble a crash from a drug high.
A few other things to avoid are:
Alcohol (nervous system depressant)
Caffeine (did I lose you here? ….may worsen anxious feelings and ability to sleep)
Sugar (messes with your blood sugar and can worsen inflammation).
I know some of you are thinking I just took away everything worth living for. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about progress. It’s about making conscious choices. If you struggle with your mood or mental health, ask yourself beforehand if this food is going to be worth it. If it is, then go for it – if not then make a better choice.
Bad moods can lead to bad eating habits; and, bad eating habits can lead to bad moods. If you need a mood boost, stick to minimally processed nutrient-dense whole foods. Things like fresh fruit and vegetables (including leafy greens), nuts and seeds, eggs, fish, poultry, and meat. Avoid common mood-busting foods like alcohol, caffeine, and sugar.
And remember, sometimes “feel good” junk foods, only make you feel good temporarily. So, try my newest recipe for fruit salad, below.
PERFECT SUMMER FRUIT SALAD
1-2 cups watermelon, cubed
1-2 cups cantaloupe, cubed
1-2 cups blueberries, fresh
1-2 cups blackberries, fresh
1-2 cups green grapes
Juice of 2 limes
Place all fruit in a large bowl, drizzle with lime juice and gently toss.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Substitute or add any ready-to-eat fruit, like chopped peaches, or raspberries.