Scientists have said that our moods are closely associated with the foods we eat. However, identifying mood boosting foods is not quite as simple as providing a specific list of foods for any given mood, however, there are certain nutrients that have been shown to have positive psychological effects. To find out what foods affect you in what ways, many doctors recommend keeping a food diary. This strategy can also be quite helpful in identifying food allergies and sensitivities. When keeping a food journal, you will need to write down everything you eat and at what times. About an hour after every meal or snack, take a moment to jot down how you feel and what kind of mood you're in. This practice can help you determine what foods boost your mood, and just as important, what foods make you feel more stressed or out of sorts.
Keep track of the foods you eat and how you feel for a couple of weeks to a month and see if you can identify what foods boost your mood and what foods bring you down. As you start making connections, you may find yourself desiring the mood boosting foods and forgoing those foods that make you feel bad. After a few weeks of this type of practice many people find themselves gravitating toward healthier foods, often without even trying. For most people, mood boosting foods tend to be healthier foods. Many people find they feel better through the afternoon when they have a salad for lunch instead of fast food. Our bodies are better able to digest foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, than heavy, greasy, fast food. This is because fast foods do not contain the nutrients the body needs to stay healthy and function optimally.
The human body contains trillions of microbes, including viruses, fungi, and bacteria in a balanced ecosystem known as the microbiome. Most of the microorganisms in your body are beneficial, and even necessary to good health, while some of the microorganisms can be harmful. These are kept in check by the beneficial microorganisms. The balance between harmful and beneficial like organisms in your body is constantly shifting, and affecting your state of health and well-being. The bacteria, especially those in your gut, are vital in many daily functions including digestion, nutrient extraction, and protection against infection. Some of the best mood boosting foods are those that promote healthy gut bacteria.
In your body, there are six major elements used to help you manage stress. Each of these systems consists of various organs and systems, each of which plays a different, yet connected, role in helping you handle a threat or a demanding situation.
The first two elements are the Neuroaffective and inflammatory response. These elements significantly influence mood, cognitive function, and immunity. The primary components of these two elements are the gut, the brain, and microbiome, along with the autonomic and central nervous systems and the immune system. Anything that happens within any one of these systems influences all of the others.
The bacteria in your gut influence a number of functions in the brain, and in turn, your thinking, emotions, and memory. Approximately three-quarters of the neurotransmitters are produced by the gut bacteria. This is why the connection between the digestive tract and the brain is so critical in maintaining homeostasis, regulating hormone levels, and stimulating the immune system.
Any disturbance in any of these systems can negatively affect your ability to handle stressful situations. Research into bowel disorders shows a strong correlation between these disorders and anxiety highlighting the connection between the brain and the digestive tract. Imbalances in gut bacteria, when added to stressful situations, may cause damage to the gastrointestinal lining and may even compromise the blood brain barrier. These types of imbalances also contribute to inflammation throughout the body.
While there is no specific standard for what makes up a healthy microbiome, due to various considerations, it is easy to see when the microbiome is not healthy, as the gut becomes unstable and unable to function normally. This condition is known as dysbiosis. In individuals with adrenal fatigue this can occur as the result of high levels of stress. Because adrenal fatigue causes the body to take measures to conserve energy, many systems slowdown, including digestion. As digestion slows, food remains in your stomach longer, the body is less able to absorb the nutrients, and inflammation increases.
The link between mood boosting foods and the brain has gained much attention recently. Some believe that a number of psychological disorders, most notably depression, may actually be caused by inflammation, that begins in the gut a number of studies on lab animals has shown that transplanting microbes from depressed mice to normal mice actually triggers depression. Anxiety and depression are two of the most common symptoms of adrenal fatigue, making it even more important for sufferers to keep gut bacteria healthy and happy.
While there are no mood boosting foods that affect every individual in exactly the same way, there are several that seem to be mood boosting foods for most people. Try adding a few of these foods to your diet and see how well they work for you. Be sure to keep track of these foods and your reactions in your food journal.
Dark chocolate - If there is a universal mood boosting food, it may well be dark chocolate. Research shows that eating approximately an ounce and a half of dark chocolate every day for two weeks reduces levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, and participants undergoing intensely stressful situations.
Whole grains - Some studies suggest that complex carbohydrates can stimulate the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with positive feelings. A recent study published in the archives of internal medicine found that people who followed a very low carbohydrate diet were significantly more depressed, more anxious, and more angry than those who consumed a higher carbohydrate diet.
Whole foods - No, not the grocery store, fresh fruits and vegetables. A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry conducted on nearly 3,500 individuals found that those who consumed a diet rich in whole foods were less likely to be depressed or anxious than those who ate a lot of processed foods, fried foods, sweets, and high-fat dairy products. Other studies have found that antioxidants in produce, and omega-3 fatty acids in fish, are linked with lower rates of depression, while folate influences neurotransmitters that affect mood. Swiss chard, in particular, is high in magnesium, while asparagus is an excellent source of tryptophan. Asparagus is also a good choice if you indulge in the occasional alcoholic beverage, as it contains enzymes that can help speed the breakdown of alcohol, reducing hangover. Finally, a handful of tart cherries just before bed will help you fall asleep, and get better quality sleep, putting you in a better mood the following morning. Tart cherries are high in melatonin which is normally produced by the body. However, stress and artificial light can inhibit melatonin production. Whatever foods you choose, you’re sure to find several mood boosting foods in this group.
Coconut - Coconut oil consists of medium chain triglycerides, a specific type of fat that can be converted into usable energy quickly and efficiently, to help prevent feelings of fatigue to the day.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids - Found in various kinds of cold-water fish, these nutrients have been shown to improve mood and help to alleviate depression. Omega-3's increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain. Studies have shown these fatty acids to be effective in smoothing out the mood swings found of bipolar disorder and in decreasing risk of suicide.
Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in wild salmon, summer flounder, shrimp, and farm-raised catfish. These fish also are low in mercury, which one needs to be careful of when eating fish from some sources. If you’re not a fish eater or are overly concerned about mercury intake, consider taking fish oil supplements instead.
There may be some mild side effects of Omega 3 fatty acids. If you use supplements, you may have a fishy taste in your mouth afterward. Burping, nausea, and bloating may also occur. Unlikely but serious side effects including bleeding or bruising easily should be brought to your medical professional’s attention. Very serious side effects are rare with Omega 3s.
Omega 3s are great for your adrenals as well as they help to reduce inflammation and the cortisol workload needed from your adrenal glands.
Caffeine - It is important to be extra cautious with caffeine, as it can cause irritability and problems with sleep. Those with adrenal fatigue, in particular, have to be cautious with caffeine as it can exacerbate their symptoms in the long-term. That said, caffeine can help you feel more alert and improve concentration and reaction times. Caffeine blocks adenosine, a neurotransmitter that inhibits energy boosting brain chemicals. To get the most from your caffeine boost try caffeinated teas. According to a study in the Journal of Nutrition, theanine, an amino acid in many tea varieties may boost the effects of caffeine to improve focus.
Ginger tea - If you are sensitive to caffeine try ginger tea instead. Ginger tea does not contain caffeine, so it will not give you jitters or insomnia. What it does have, is significant amounts of antioxidants and nutrients to help keep you focused in the afternoon.
Eggs - If you've been told that eggs are a major cause of high cholesterol, I have good news. Eggs are a fantastic source of iron, protein, and B vitamins which are vital in the conversion of food into usable energy. Eggs are a great source of long-lasting energy.
Water - A recent study of appetite followed 120 female college students who tracked everything they ate and drank for 5 days and filled out mood questionnaires. All of the participants were on oral contraceptives, to minimize hormones as a factor. The researchers calculated all of the fluids consumed and found that those who drank more water had lower scores for tension, depression, and confusion. The study did not determine whether women who drank more water were more upbeat, or if the more upbeat women were more likely to drink more water, but another study did look into this connection. In this study, 30 people who typically drank five glasses of water a day were asked to double their intake. After three days, they showed better mood, higher energy levels, and greater satisfaction. The researchers followed up by asking 22 people who typically drank plenty of water to decrease their intake. This group experienced more headaches, worse moods, impaired cognitive function, and more fatigue. Many other studies back up the idea of water and foods with high water content as excellent mood boosting foods.
Folic Acid - Another important nutrient to seek out in mood boosting foods is folic acid. It has been shown to help prevent mood disorders and other central nervous system disorders. Beans and greens are good sources of folic acid. Spinach and black beans are also good foods to eat for folic acid.
Common side effects of folic acid include nausea, gas, loss of appetite, irritability, and confusion. If these become bothersome or don’t go away, consult your medical professional. More serious side effects include pain, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest. Let your medical professional know right away if these occur.
Vitamin B12 - This nutrient in mood boosting foods and supplements works along with folic acid to help deal with mood disorders. B12 can be found in dairy products, fish, poultry, and meat.
Diarrhea and headaches are the most common side effects of B12. More serious side effects that should be reported to your medical professional include pain, dizziness, tightness in your chest, difficulty breathing, or severe allergic reactions.
B12 is a good nutrient for your NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Detoxification Circuit. It can give you a lift of energy, and help you think better. Do be careful with this though, as excess use may lead to a crash.
Selenium - This nutrient acts as an antioxidant in your body. One of the leading causes of moderate depression in the elderly is oxidative stress in the brain. Choosing mood boosting foods or supplements that contain selenium in sufficient amounts can decrease this oxidative stress. Whole grains such as oatmeal and brown rice contain good amounts of selenium. You can also find it in lean meat, nuts and seeds, seafood, and low-fat dairy foods.
High doses or long-term use of selenium may lead to significant side effects. Nausea, vomiting, loss of energy, and irritability may be seen. If you have an autoimmune condition, selenium may stimulate a worsening of the condition. It may also increase the likelihood of developing diabetes.
Vitamin D - Probably the best way to be assured of getting enough of this nutrient is to get out in the sun for some time daily. Your body makes its own vitamin D from exposure to the sun.
Recent research has shown a lower level of vitamin D in the blood is found in several types of depression. This would strengthen the necessity of getting sufficient vitamin D. Not very many foods contain vitamin D, so a variety of sources is key to getting a sufficient amount.
Beef liver, egg yolks, and cheese are good sources of vitamin D. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna also contain this vitamin. Vitamin D supplements may also be an option if getting enough from diet is an issue.
Taking too much vitamin D may lead to fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, dry mouth, nausea, and vomiting. Serious side effects may include severe allergic reactions that must be handled immediately by medical professionals.
Chromium - This trace mineral helps your body metabolize food. It also works to increase the levels of melatonin, serotonin, and norepinephrine in the brain. Your brain uses these neurotransmitters to regulate mood and emotion. Because chromium helps with these mood regulators, it is of benefit in boosting moods.
Mood boosting foods that contain chromium include broccoli, whole wheat English muffins, grape juice, and turkey breast. A common side effect of taking chromium is upset stomach. More serious side effects include changes in vision, fever, chills, changes in mood and emotion, weakness, tiredness, and muscle aches, cramps, or pain.
Magnesium - Too little of this nutrient can lead to lowered energy levels which is a major symptom of various kinds of depression. Magnesium helps your body change dietary sugars into energy. Mood boosting foods that contain magnesium include nuts such as cashews and almonds, whole grains, and some fish such as halibut.
The most common side effect of magnesium is diarrhea. Other more serious side effects include breathing problems, sweating, flushing, weakness and fatigue, feeling faint, and having serious allergic reactions.
Magnesium also helps to lower cortisol levels. In the early stages of adrenal fatigue, this can be very beneficial along with phosphorylated serine.
Zinc - Zinc is another nutrient that has been shown to be beneficial in dealing with depression. Mood boosting foods that contain zinc include oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains, and dairy products. It is important to keep in mind that some grains and plant foods contain phytates that can hamper the bioavailability of zinc.
Heartburn and stomach upset are the most common side effects of zinc. More serious side effects may include nausea, vomiting, breathing problems, chest pain, and feeling faint.
Iron - Iron, an essential mineral, helps in the transport of oxygen to the cells of the body. Both too little and too much iron causes significant physical problems. Too little iron leads to anemia and potentially to organ failure. Too much iron increases the production of free radicals and inhibits metabolism. Since your body can regulate the consumption of iron, mood-boosting food sources are considered safe.
Meat sources of iron, such as beef and shellfish, have better absorption rates, but plant sources are better regulated by your body. Some of the plant sources of iron include dried fruits, dark leafy greens, beans, lentils, mushrooms, and quinoa.
Indigestion, nausea, and constipation are the most common side effects of iron. Seizures, stomach pain, vomiting, and drowsiness are more serious side effects.
Calcium - This nutrient helps with the production and secretion of some hormones and enzymes necessary for the proper functioning of your body. It also aids in nerve signaling. A deficiency of calcium can lead to lethargy and loss of appetite, two major symptoms of depression. Too much calcium, especially from supplements, can cause an increased risk of stroke and heart attack, as well as kidney stones.
Mood boosting foods containing calcium include dark leafy greens, okra, broccoli, bok choy, green beans, and almonds. Constipation and upset stomach are the most common side effects. More serious side effects include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, headache, weakness or fatigue, and confusion or irritability.
Avocado - This food has a number of benefits, especially for the brain. Avocados are natural hormone balancers. This characteristic helps your brain make appropriate biochemicals that then can improve mood.
Grapes - In addition to being a great snack, grapes are wonderful antioxidants with a large amount of flavonoids. These flavonoids have been shown to positively affect mood.
Shiitake Mushrooms - These mushrooms contain vitamin B6. All of the B vitamins are important for ensuring the optimal functioning of both physical and psychological aspects of the body. But B6 contains pyridoxine which has beneficial effects on mood especially.
Vitamin B6 aids in the production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Sufficient levels of this vitamin help to improve mood and decrease stress.
Raw Nuts - When you’re depressed, the level of serotonin in your brain is decreased. Raw nuts are high in serotonin, thus they are a good source of this necessary neurotransmitter. They also have high levels of antioxidants and healthy fats. They do have high levels of fats and calories, so you must be careful how many you eat.
Sesame Seeds - Most of the time, these small seeds are used basically for decorative purposes. However, they also contain tyrosine. This is an amino acid that helps increase dopamine levels. Dopamine is a hormone that boosts mood significantly.
Eat smaller meals more frequently - This isn’t exactly a mood boosting food, but if you adhere to a standard three meals a day, you may need to make them a bit smaller and add nutritious snacks in between. Hunger and low blood sugar are common causes of irritability.
There are many foods that are often thought of as mood boosting foods that, while they may taste good and may boost mood temporarily, actually have the opposite effect in the long-term.
Saturated fat - A study known as the Coronary Health Improvement Project followed more than 300 people between the ages of 24 and 81 for six weeks. The study found that a decrease in saturated fat correlated with a decrease in depression.
Alcohol - Though alcohol does give temporary feelings of euphoria, it actually acts as a depressant in the brain and negatively affects all nerve cells. Drinking more alcohol can lead quickly to exaggerated emotions, impaired coordination, and of course, hangover. It is a well-established fact that depressive disorders are often linked with excessive alcohol use.
Sugar - According to a 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Americans consume approximately 22 teaspoons of sugar every single day. While sugar does provide a rush that feels good, that rush is inevitably followed by a crash and irritability. For a better way to satisfy your sweet cravings, try dates. They’re a mood boosting food that will satisfy your sweet tooth, replacing sugar with fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients to sustain your energy levels far longer.
Consuming more mood boosting foods, and avoiding or limiting mood busting foods provides significant benefits to most people. However, if you suffer from certain conditions, such as a systemic infection or adrenal fatigue, you will need to be a bit more cautious. If you have any health condition, be sure to talk with a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your diet.
© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.