If moods were merely psychological and if they were truly “all in your head,” they wouldn’t make us so miserable. We don’t choose to stay in the depths of depression, and we don’t always have control over how our feelings affect our lives, because for many of us, mood is as physical as a broken bone.
Scientists believe that mood is caused by changes in the production or availability of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), which are responsible for feelings of anger, anxiety, happiness, motivation and depression, which can affect overall energy levels. The three main neurotransmitters – norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin – work in concert to balance mood. The reason you feel a particular way on a particular day is usually a combination of genetic susceptibility, life’s events, and your body’s physical state. And all of us can be pushed over the emotional cliff by food–related issues, including what we eat, when we eat, and why we eat.
Nutrition related mood problems have both long-and short -term roots. Poor eating habits, can over time, lead to deficiencies in some of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that contribute to a good mood. For example, the amino acid tryptophan can be converted in the brain to serotonin – a mood-calming neurotransmitter – only when adequate carbohydrate is present. Eating patterns can also affect your moods from hour to hour – the proverbial “midmorning slump” – and many cases of flaring irritability can be caused by a dip in blood sugar, resulting from eating the wrong foods at the wrong time of day or from not eating enough, or not eating often enough.
No matter where your moods come from or how long they last, eating the right foods can help you feel more energetic and less like you’re riding an emotional roller coaster.
Here are the main guideposts on your mood- food road map.
1. High quality carbohydrates and proteins
Like all foods, carbohydrates affect body chemistry, and the type of carbs you eat will make all the difference in determining metabolism, energy, and overall well-being. When blood sugar is up, we feel good; when it goes down, our moods plunge. Ideally you want to eat foods that give you a steady level of energy from start to finish.
Protein doesn’t add to blood sugar but instead helps slow absorption of carbohydrates from the blood, making it critical in moderating mood because it’s a great stabiliser. To stay on an even keel all day, the majority of your meals and snacks should combine high-quality carbohydrates and protein.
• Best feel good high-quality carbs:
Non-starchy vegetables such as artichokes, bok choy, broccoli, dark leafy greens, eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, pumpkin, snow peas, sugar snap peas, tomatoes and water chestnuts.
Lentils and beans (black-eyed peas, garbanzo and kidney beans, lentils and soy beans).
All fresh and frozen fruits – Whole grains such as amaranth, barley, oats, quinoa, brown rice, etc.
2. Omega-3 fatty acids
The relationship between depression and omega-3 fats is complex and not fully understood. Studies have shown improvement in mood when omega-3 foods and supplements are a part of your daily diet. Omega-3s are most abundant in fatty fish, so I recommend eating one or two servings per week.
• Best feel good omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods:
Wild salmon (fresh, tinned), herring, mackerel (not king), sardines, anchovies, rainbow trout, Pacific oysters, chia seeds, ground flaxseeds, walnuts, butternuts (white walnuts), seaweed, walnut oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil and soybeans (edamame).
3. Vitamin D
In recent years research suggests that vitamin D may help relieve mood disorders (anxiety, depression) because it increases levels of serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for mood. If you suffer from minor depression and anxiety issues, aim to eat more vitamin D-rich foods to improve your mood profile.
• Best feel good vitamin D-rich foods:
Wild salmon (fresh, tinned), herring, mackerel (not king), sardines, milk (fat free, 1%), soy milk, fortified yoghurt (fat-free, low fat), egg yolks, vitamin D-enhanced mushrooms.
4. Vitamins: Folate & B12
Folate and vitamin B12 are involved in the production and metabolism of neurotransmitters that help normalise mood. Low levels have been linked to a higher risk of depression, especially in older adults. Even if you are not clinically depressed, you should also go out of your way to eat foods rich in both folate and vitamin B12.
• Best feel good folate-rich foods:
Lentils, black-eyed peas, soybeans, oats, spinach, artichokes, parsnips, broccoli, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, oranges and orange juice, brussel sprouts, papayas, seaweed, berries (boysenberries, blackberries, strawberries), starchy beans (black, pinto, navy, kidney), cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, corn, whole grain bread and whole grain pasta
• Best feel good vitamin B12-rich foods:
Shellfish (clams, oysters, crab), wild salmon, soy milk, trout (rainbow, wild), tuna (tinned, light), lean beef, veggie burgers, cottage cheese (fat-free, 1%), yoghurt (fat-free, low fat), eggs and cheese (fat-free, reduced fat)
Eat consistently throughout the day
• If your blood sugar flags, your energy will fade and your mood can take a nasty turn. You need to eat at least once every four to five hours to keep your brain fuelled and happy. Make sure each meal and snack contains a combination of high-quality carbohydrates and protein.
• Too many people underestimate the benefits of exercise. Most studies that have looked at the effects of exercise on mood find that nearly any kind of exercise reduces anxiety, tension, stress and feelings of depression. Not only that, but it can also make you feel stronger, more confident and self-assured.
Make time for you
• As impossible as it may seem, when you’re feeling frazzled, overextended, angry, anxious or depressed, your family and friends may be your best “vaccine”. Make daily time for “me time”, take a step back (even if just ten minutes), reframe your way of thinking and learn how to balance work life with personal life.
Article first published on Asia Spa