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Mood Improving Food
The food-mood connection continues to amaze us. What you eat directly influences your brain chemistry and subsequently affects your mood. This means, if you’re deficient in essential nutrients, your brain chemistry can be impacted, and you may experience mood swings and behavior changes. It also means making specific food choices can drastically improve the way you feel.
Food, as well as nutritional supplements, influence specialized brain messengers, or neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenalin. These messengers enable communication between nerve cells in the brain that control mood, appetite, thoughts, and behaviors. They even govern feelings of happiness, mental alertness, and calmness. Since neurotransmitters are derived from compounds in the foods we eat, changing our food choices can naturally modify their levels. Some foods can improve physical or mental stress response, while others may contribute to anxiety or depression.
The choices we make regarding fats are especially important to our mental health. The fats in our food help regulate memory and mood, as 60 percent of the brain is made up of fatty acids. The long chain of omega-3 fats, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are essential to the optimum performance of the brain. DHA and EPA are found in oily fish, such as mackerel, tuna, herring, salmon, and sardines, as well as in fish oil supplements.
If you don’t regularly eat at least two to three servings of fatty fish per week, you should consider taking a daily supplement.
Your risk of depression and stress level can be reduced just by introducing these fats into your diet. DHA and EPA can also support a healthy memory and protect our brains as we age.
Proteins are another important part of our diets, since they’re the building blocks of most of the body’s cells, nerve tissues, and organs. Proteins are comprised of amino acids, which are needed to build the neurotransmitters that direct mental performance. Eating proteins with complex carbohydrates can change the brain’s chemistry and support concentration, calmness, and a sense of wellbeing.
Specific amino acids affect our neurotransmitters, and thus our mood. 5HTP and tryptophan, which are found in things like turkey and milk, as well as supplements, boost serotonin, which supports emotional stability and cognition. Phenylalanine and tyrosine, found in milk, meats, and soy, support dopamine, which allows us to experience pleasure, makes us more sociable, and supports learning and motivation. When dopamine levels rise, our bodies produce norepinephrine, which boosts energy and drive.
These are just some of the many interesting ties between food and mood. As scientists’ findings continue to expand, be sure you stay up-to-date with the latest research and plan your meals accordingly.