Many of us simply see food as fuel. We feel hungry, so we eat (whatever is easy, accessible and tasty), and then we’re full. Simple as that — and the cycle continues.
But did you know that food can have a significant effect on how your day goes and how you feel? Choosing what to put on your plate can also be a choice between spending your day feeling grumpy and unbalanced or energized and clear-headed.
If you find yourself frequently feeling low, take a look at your diet before resorting to dangerous antidepressant drugs.
Here’s a breakdown of foods that can destroy your mood, and others that can help you have a great day!
Top three bad-mood foods
Along with encouraging the development of diabetes and fueling the growth of cancer, sugar can put you on an emotional roller coaster. Eating refined sugar causes your blood sugar to soar and then crash, and your mood goes along with it. When blood sugar goes down rapidly, stress-hormone levels (such as adrenaline and cortisol) rise in response. This makes you feel stressed and depleted.
But the toxic effects of sugar go further. The activity of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) is impaired — this is an important chemical used by neurons and is involved in regulating mood. Animal studies have shown that low BDNF levels correspond with mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia. Finally, sugar promotes chronic inflammation and the overgrowth of bad gut bacteria and yeast. Both of these conditions can lead to mood disorders and anxiety.
Gluten and grains
Gluten (found mainly in wheat, rye and barley) can directly affect your mood. Interestingly, it’s impossible to know precisely in what way an individual will be affected because this toxic protein could impair blood flow to any part of your brain. A common effect is lower production of serotonin, which is an important chemical in both the gut and the brain, supporting mood balance and aggression control.
Compounds called lectins, which are found in grains and legumes, also block the absorption of a number of minerals and nutrients. This means that frequent consumption of these foods can leave you with nutritional deficiencies that affect your mood. Low iron, for example, is associated with fatigue and depression, while insufficient magnesium can cause moodiness and a lack of energy.
We talk a lot about avoiding processed food here at The Alternative Daily, but it really is important. Packaged and prepared foods are made with a laundry list of unnatural ingredients that are not well processed in the digestive system and negatively affect the brain. Some of the biggest offenders include monosodium glutamate (MSG), which literally kills neurons in your brain; aspartame, which is associated with depression and panic attacks; and artificial colors, which have been connected with hyperactivity. Remember to check out the ingredients list — if there are more than four or five ingredients, or anything that sounds chemical or unrecognizable, don’t buy it! Stick with clean, whole foods instead for a stable mood and a healthy body.
Seven foods that improve your mood
On the flip side, eating certain healthy foods can leave you with a stable positive mood, strong self-confidence and the energy to conquer your day. It should come as no surprise that these seven good-mood foods are whole, unprocessed and natural!
Fish with omega-3 fatty acids
Include lots of cold-water fish, like sardines, salmon, herring and mackerel in your diet. Wild-caught fish are best. Fish that live in cold water need to insulate themselves, so they have a layer of fat between the skin and muscle. This is where we find those lovely omega-3 fats that are so helpful in preventing mood disorders like anxiety and depression. These fats also help temper inflammation, for example by protecting neurons in the brain against damage that can be done by chronic stress. This helps keep you more flexible and able to deal with everyday challenges.
Be sure to eat lots of vegetables that contain chromium, such as onions, romaine lettuce and tomatoes. Fresh chopped salad, anyone? These veggies help to regulate blood sugar and increase serotonin production. A 2003 study in Biological Psychiatry found that 70 percent of people with atypical depression (a pattern of tiredness and mood dips throughout the day) showed improvement after taking chromium supplements for eight weeks. Eating whole foods rich in chromium is an even better way to get this mood-boosting nutrient.
It’s difficult to find a person who doesn’t feel happier after eating chocolate, but have you ever wondered why it has this magical effect?
Chocolate contains a pain-reducing neurotransmitter called anandamide and helps boost production of serotonin or keep it in the brain longer. Chocolate is also high in magnesium, a mineral that we know is important for a good mood.
Be sure to buy chocolate with 70 percent or higher cocoa content. Check the ingredients on the package — sugar should not appear first in the list! European chocolate (such as French or Swiss) tends to be made with higher-quality cocoa.
Remember how sugar consumption initiates the mood roller coaster? Proteins and fats are a slower burning source of fuel that gives you a steady burn. This helps keep blood sugar levels stable and supports energy and mood as a result. Try integrating fat and protein sources such as eggs, nuts and coconut oil into your daily diet.
Dark leafy greens
Foods such as kale, chard and spinach contain a powerhouse of mood-enhancing nutrients. This impressive list includes magnesium, folate and vitamin B6, all of which are closely associated with lower incidence of depression and a more balanced stress response.
Seeds and more seeds
Seeds such as flax, pumpkin and sunflower are rich in a wide range of minerals. Magnesium in particular has been linked with mood support, while zinc takes care of your immune system. The majority of your immune system is comprised of friendly bugs in your gut, and these little guys are vital for a good mood, too. They communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, a core nerve pathway traveling from the intestines to the brain stem.
Similarly, fermented foods help take care of your intestinal microbiome. Introducing more “good bugs,” like the ones found in kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi, can help maintain a positive balance of cultures in your gut. Good bacteria help digest food, keep you healthy and improve your mood, while harmful ones can make you inflamed, depressed and anxious. Consuming traditional cultured and fermented foods on a daily basis is a great way to have more energy and feel happier, too!
Food goes a long way toward keeping your mood on an even keel, but lifestyle practices are important too. It’s easy to improve your mood fast with these one-minute happiness tricks.
Liivi is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and is training to become a doula. She inspires women to find peace and personal power by taking control of health and fertility naturally. Liivi‘s passion is ancestral nutrition and primal lifestyle design. She and her partner Will live between Toronto, Canada and Queenstown, New Zealand.