Does the food that we eat really have the ability to affect our mood?
The belief that food can affect a person’s health and well-being actually dates back to medieval times. That was when people started to take an interest in discovering how certain foods could affect mood and temperament, and many medical culinary textbooks of the time were dedicated to describing the relationship between mood and food. Foods like quince, dates and elderberries were often used as mood enhancers, lettuce and chicory as tranquilizers, and apples, pomegranates, beef and eggs as aphrodisiacs.
We’ve come a long way since then. However, numerous studies on the relationship between mood and food seem to indicate that it’s much more than just a myth.
The Science of “Mood Food”
So, how does what you eat actually impact your mood?
Basically, the science behind food’s effect on happiness is based on evidence that dietary changes can bring about changes in our brain chemistry, thereby altering the hormones responsible for controlling our mood.
For example, a well-known “happy hormone” is serotonin, which is produced by tryptophan in the brain. When you eat more foods that boost the levels of serotonin in your body, it can really help to lift your mood. Conversely, foods that interfere with serotonin production – like junk food and alcohol – tend to lower your mood and cause anxiety and depression.
A lot of research is still being done on the topic, and there are a lot of things that are still unclear. However, there does seem to be strong evidence that along with regular exercise, sticking to the right diet could help ward off the blues.
6 Foods That Naturally Enhance Your Mood
The key to combining good nutrition and mood maintenance isn’t just about eating the right foods. Rather, it’s about eating enough mood-boosting foods at regular intervals, and avoiding the foods that make you feel low.
To maintain good mood hygiene, try eating one or two of these natural mood enhancers every day:
1. Dark chocolate
It’s probably not news to you that dark chocolate is one of the best happiness-inducing foods out there.
A study by the Nestlé Research Center in Switzerland showed that eating 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate every day for two weeks helped reduce stress hormones in people who were highly stressed. Experts believe it’s thanks to the antioxidants and magnesium in dark chocolate, which can help to calm anxiety and improve mood.
Bananas are a great source of tryptophan, which produces serotonin. They also contain lots of vitamin B6, which can help to relieve anxiety and stress, and magnesium, which helps improve your quality of sleep.
3. Oily Fish
Research shows that omega-3 deficiency is linked to depression and low mood in certain people, as these fatty acids make up about 30% of our brain tissue.
Eating more oily, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines and trout regularly will help you to keep your brain healthy, and helps improve your mood by keeping your brain cells flexible, so that the brain’s messaging chemicals – neurotransmitters – can work more effectively.
Avocados are natural hormone balancers, and help ensure that your brain is making the right chemicals to keep it feeling great. They’re also packed with depression-fighting folate, mood-boosting tryptophan and stress-relieving vitamin B6.
5. Raw nuts
Nuts are full of serotonin, antioxidants and healthy fats. They’re great, healthy snacks which offer lots of nutrition in a small serving – so you won’t need to eat a lot of them. One or two handfuls of raw nuts is usually more than enough to leave you smiling and in a good mood for the rest of the day.
Oats are a very effective mood-booster thanks to their low GI – meaning that they slowly release energy into the bloodstream, keeping your blood sugar and mood stable. They also contain plenty of the mood-boosting mineral selenium, which can ward off low mood and anxiety.
Mood-Busting Foods You Should Avoid
Just as some foods can help to lift your mood, others may naturally deplete your good vibes. It’s important to know which foods to limit, or leave off your shopping list altogether.
Here are the top two foods which could potentially lower your mood:
Too much caffeine can interfere with the body’s production of the happy hormone serotonin, and reduce levels of tryptophan. This can make you anxious and miserable, and also disturb your sleep. Lack of sleep has been linked to depression, so if you find yourself feeling low, you may want to reduce your caffeine intake – or avoid it entirely.
When we’re depressed, we naturally crave sugar – but that doesn’t mean that it’s good for us. Sweets and fats actually trigger the same pleasure centers in the brain that addictive drugs do.
The sugars found in junk foods like candy and soda can cause your blood sugar to go up and down like a rollercoaster – which will leave you with a quick burst of energy, followed by a tired, cranky feeling. So while sugar may help satisfy your taste buds, it’s not very good for your overall mood.
At the end of the day, there’s definitely a clear relationship between the food you eat and your state of mind. By knowing which foods to eat more of and which ones to avoid, you’ll be able to plan meals that will help enhance your mood and improve your mental well-being. And that’s definitely something that you can feel happy about.