Like with every topic, there are two sides to this one. Firstly there are some very foods that boost your mood. On the other hand, some very unhealthy foods can give you these good feelings too. But there is a difference between the effect of the good foods versus the bad foods. The good feelings LAST when they come from the right foods!
It’s best to end on a positive note, so lets go through the unhealthy foods first:
Sugar and Salt
Both sugar and salt have been accused of triggering pleasure centres of the brain. This fuels an addiction to these nutrients. Sugar and other simple carbohydrates actually tell the body to release serotonin. This in turn boosts your mood.
Researchers Drewnowski and Levine in the Journal of Nutrition (March, 2003) found that high intake of simple carbohydrates is the result of habit and association. They found that these unhealthy habits can lead to “neurochemical changes” in the brain. These changes basically enhance your cravings for these foods, almost like an addiction!
The same effect has been found for salt cravings in a 2009 study published in the Journal of Medical Hypotheses. It is thus all the more important to break these habits by eliminating sugar and decreasing your salt intake wherever possible.
Just one tip on the sugar front. If you find you are craving sugar after meals, it may be due to unbalanced blood sugar levels. This happens as a result of excess carbohydrates in the meal. Try to increase your healthy fat intake at meal times, and keep carbohydrate portions under control. This will help prevent blood sugar highs and lows. Like any addiction, initially going cold turkey can lead to withdrawal symptoms. These may include headaches, sluggishness, bloating and a “hangry” temperament initially, but they will subside over time.
There are organic reasons for craving salty foods. Firstly, if you are a sportsman or woman, you should know to replenish your sodium intake during or at least after each bout of exercise. We lose salt in our sweat, and excess sweating will equal excess losses. Secondly, it has been suggested that mineral deficiency can cause salt cravings. If you have a lack of potassium, calcium and iron in the diet, you are more prone to craving salt!
Now on to the GOOD FOODS:
Raw cacao is one of the best foods to boost your mood. It triggers the same chemicals in the brain that are stimulated when we experience love. Chocolates for Valentines Day anyone? Raw Cacao is antioxidant rich, and a good source of nutrients such as zinc, calcium and iron. Now I’m not talking about Cadbury’s or Lindt here, unless you’re going for the 70% and above category. The darker the better!
Cocoa powder and cacao are not the same, with cocoa powder being the processed form. Often, chocolates are loaded with sugar and other nasties that render the benefit of cacao negligible. Choose a raw cacao powder when possible.
Green Veg e.g. Broccoli, Spinach, Brussels Sprouts, Kale
I’m not trying to trick you into eating your greens. Instead my intention is to show you that these nutrient-dense powerhouses are foods that boost your mood!
- Broccoli is a rich source of Chromium. Chromium plays an important role in increasing the brains’ level of sertonin, norepinephrine, and melatonin. These help the brain regulate emotion and mood
- Spinach and Brussels Sprouts are rich sources of Folate. Folate helps the body create new cells and supports serotonin regulation. Serotonin passes messages between nerve cells and helps the brain manage a variety of functions. These range from determining mood, to regulating social behaviour.
- Spinach is also a great source of Magnesium. The benefits of Magnesium for mood will be discussed under Nuts and Seeds below.
- Kale is a rich source of Calcium (179mg per cup). Calcium paired with Vitamin D plays a role in regulating mood fluctuations related to PMS. That means that this is a great food for women.
Nuts are among the best sources of the mineral Magnesium. Almonds, cashews and peanuts contain the most magnesium per serving. Magnesium plays a large role in the development of serotonin. Serotonin is a major contributor to feelings of happiness. Due to its ability to help regulate emotions, magnesium is a common element in homeopathic remedies for balancing mood.
Nuts also contain the nutrient zinc. Studies have identified zinc as an important factor in decreasing depressive symptoms. Zinc can improve the response of antidepressants, while reducing the side effects of anti-depression medication. A lack of zinc can trigger depressive behaviours, so load up on zinc-rich foods to boost your mood.
Fatty Fish e.g. Salmon, Trout, Herring, Sardines, and Pilchards
I am sure you know where I am going with this. Whenever you hear fatty fish, think: “Omega 3”. Studies have shown a correlation between consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids and a decreased risk of depression and suicide. Increasing your intake of omega 3 fatty acids may help combat depression. Other sources of omega 3 include flaxseeds and chia seeds. If you are not taking these in the diet, a pharmaceutical grade fish oil capsule can be taken daily to boost omega 3 intake.
Essentially the trend I am conveying here, is that a depressed mood can also be viewed as a nutrient deficiency. It is important to cover your bases on the nutrient front first and foremost. There are countless images on Facebook insisting that you feel good when you eat real food, and there is some truth to that! Load up on the foods mentioned above to boost your mood (and productivity) today.
If you need further help finding the right foods to boost your mood, get in touch for your personalised meal plan today.