We can all relate to that feeling of dreaded lethargy that can engulf us after a greasy lunch or the morning after a few too many cocktails. “Food coma”, “hangry” and “sugar high” are just some of the descriptive words we throw around to describe the effect that food (or lack of it) may have on us. However we often do not give food the attention it deserves when attempting to balance our mood. Below I provide a few tips on how to improve our mood with food as our foundation.
Boost Your B’s: There is a reason why Berocca is marketed as giving you back that “B-B Bounce”. B vitamins arguably have more dramatic mood elevating effects than most other nutrients. Various B vitamins are crucial for proper nerve function and nerve cell metabolism which produces optimal neurotransmitter levels, in other words, help to produce the hormones which make you feel good! Deficiencies of of B complex vitamins are common amongst people who are suffering from anxiety, fatigue, irritability and other symptoms related to mood disorders. There is a better way to get your B’s other than through a fizzy synthetic orange pill.
ACTION: Excellent sources of B vitamins include leafy greens in particular spinach, collard greens and kale, sea vegetables such as seaweed, spirulina, chlorella and blue green algae as well as nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains such as brown rice and barley and eggs.
Go Low: Glycaemic Index that is! Foods which rank low on the Glycaemic Index scale have been been linked to improved mood. Stable blood sugar levels promote normalised levels of serotonin, a neurochemical that has a wonderful effect on mood, satisfaction and happiness. This means no more “sugar crashes” that leave you feeling tired and irritable. Low glycaemic index foods are also a slow burning source of fuel and hence provide stable energy levels which can help you feel alert throughout the course of the day.
ACTION: Going low GI means choosing nuts, seeds, non-starchy veggies and whole grains over processed, white and starchy foods. Look for foods with a GI below 50 – the website below is a handy reference point: http://www.glycemicindex.com/foodSearch.php
Love Your Omega’s: It is no surprise that essential fatty acids have an important bearing on the mind and mood given that fats account for more than 50% of the weight of the brain. Brain cells which are weakened by not containing the right fats are unable to process serotonin and other neurotransmitters. What is important when it comes to fats is getting the right type in i.e. more Omega 3s rather than Omega 6s (found in seed oils, margarine, processed foods and conventional meat products). Contrary to popular belief you do not get Omega 3s only from fish, in fact flaxseeds are one of the most concentrated sources of Omega 3s, more concentrated than cold-water fish.
ACTION: Chia seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and sea vegetables (nori, hijiki kombu) are also great sources. Having a tablespoon of flaxseed meal daily is a safe and easy way to get your Omega 3 fix for the day.
“Heal-thy” Gut: A healthy gut is becoming more and more recognised as being the key to a healthy mind. About 90% of the total amount of serotonin is actually primarily produced in the digestive tract. In many instances repairing gut ecology and eliminating allergenic food can assist in getting rid of much unwanted emotional turbulence.
ACTION: Slippery elm powder, coconut oil and a few other key foods and herbs are wonderful for soothing and healing the gut lining. However, if you suspect you have a food allergy or sensitivity that may be contributing to your low mood, please ask me about my Gut Healing Protocol and/or food intolerance/sensitivity testing.
Carbs are not the Bad Guys: When it comes to boosting mood, low carb is often not the best approach. Complex carbohydrates actually tend to boost the activity of serotonin, thereby improving mood, helping to control appetite and reduce bingeing. This is due to their effect on insulin signaling and its interaction with serotonin synthesis and uptake in the cells. High protein foods which are rich in tryptophan often contain the amino acid phenylalanine which can be more stimulating rather than calming.
ACTION: Eat whole grains in moderation. Barley, brown rice and quinoa are low GI fruits are excellent additions to your daily diet. Check out the brown rice pilaf recipe on my blog for a wholesome serotonin-boosting meal.
Super Star Mood Enhancers: When it comes to boosting mood my favourite foods include:
- Walnuts: Based on the Doctrine of Signatures walnuts look like a brain so perhaps that is nature’s signal of their brain-boosting properties. They are a wonderful source of Omega 3s and taste delicious when eaten directly out of their shell!
- Avocado: Another wonderful source of Omega-3s and monounsaturated fatty acids. Perhaps my love of avocados has more to do with their creamy texture and the ease at which a guacomole can be thrown together.
- Kale: Kale has well and truly surpassed superfood status with all the current hype around it. However it is in fact a rich source of B vitamins, in particular folate and is also a great source of iron and magnesium. Combine it with walnuts and avocado in a salad for maximum mood boosting effects!
- Maca: Maca is a balancing adaptogenic herb which means it can help to improve your body’s response to stress. What I love about it is its earthy and warming flavour which is enough to make you feel more grounded and calm. Combine maca with raw cacao and a pinch of stevia as an alternative to coffee or hot chocolate.
Cousens, G. (2008). Depression Free for Life. New York: Harper.
Maes, M., Kubera, M. and Leunis, J. (2008). The gut-brain barrier in major depression: intestinal mucosal dysfunction with an increased translocation of LPS from gram negative enterobacteria (leaky gut) plays a role in the inflammatory pathophysiology of depression. Neuro Endo Letters, 29 (1),117-24.
Mc-Bride, N. (2010). Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS). United Kingdom: Medinform Publishing.
University of Sydney (2012). Glycaemic Index Database. Retrieved from: http://www.glycemicindex.com/foodSearch.php
Young SN (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, Vol. 32 (6), 394–9.