When we are experiencing an uncomfortable feeling, we immediately think of how much better we will be feeling eating that chocolate. The reality is the lift in mood is short lived, and we are often left with a feeling of regret.
As there are no foods that can improve our negative moods – there are foods that can assist us in combating the intensity of the feelings we experience as part of daily life.
Ramp up the happy brain messengers
Serotonin is a brain messenger (neurotransmitter) that is an important modulator of mood, contributing toward feelings of well-being and happiness. Low levels of serotonin are associated with mood disorders such as depression. Foods can contribute to increase the natural production of serotonin as follows:
- Aiming for small doses of a specific amino acid, tryptophan (1 g) as this is converted to molecules which lead to increased levels of serotonin. There is 1g of tryptophan in each of the following.
- 200g soya beans
- 200g lean protein
- 200g ricotta cheese
- 300g fish
- Other foods that contain natural serotonin include banana, avocado pear and tomatoes.
- As 80-90% of our serotonin production occurs in our gut, improving gut health will contribute to an improvement in mood. You can improve your gut health by doing the following:
- Drink 4 to 6 glasses of water daily.
- Eat foods high in fibre.
- Eat fermented foods (yoghurt, mageu, kombucha, kefir) or regularly take a probiotic supplement.
Manage your blood glucose levels
When your blood sugar levels go through a roller coaster of highs and lows during the day it will affect your mood. You may feel irritable, moody, tired, struggle to concentrate and experience cravings for sweet foods. Maintain optimal blood sugar levels by practicing the following:
- Eat regular meals and avoid skipping meals
- Limit foods high in sugar and white flour
- Substitute unhealthy refined carbohydrates for healthier ones that are higher in fibre and less processed. For example: fresh fruit (limit fruit to 2-3 servings spread out throughout the day) and vegetables , barley, brown rice, quinoa, spelt, lentils, beans, chickpeas, oats, baby potatoes, sweet potato and corn. A starch should have more than 6g of fibre per 100g to be considered high in fibre.
- Eat smaller portions of food.
Ease up on the caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase anxiety in individuals who struggle to metabolise it. It can negatively affect sleep and therefore, mood.
- Reduce caffeine intake in the diet to less than 300mg/day. The caffeine content of common drinks are fizzy cold-drinks (30-40mg), green tea (35mg), black tea (55mg), energy drinks (80mg), instant coffee (76-106mg) and brewed coffee (100-170mg) per 250ml cup. Decaffeinated coffee contains only 3-15mg per 250ml cup.
- Drink caffeine free alternatives such as rooibos tea, herbal teas, or infused water in the afternoon and evenings.
Get your omegas
Diets high in healthy omega 3 polyunsaturated fats have been shown to reduce inflammation and therefore certain mood disorders like depression. Omega 3 fats will reduce neuroinflammation and improve the integrity and structural composition of cell membranes. You can increase your intake of these fatty acids by doing the following:
- Enjoy at least 3 x 90g portions of fatty fish a week such as salmon, trout, sardines, pilchards and mackerel. Practical ideas to increase your intake could be to add salmon to scrambled egg, enjoy trout with cottage cheese on whole grain crackers, eat pilchards on toast, top sardines on crackers with raw tomato and onion, enjoy a salmon salad as a light meal in a restaurant or choose tinned salmon and mayo for a sandwich filling.
- If you don’t like fatty fish, aim for a minimum of 1000mg per day of EPA and DHA combined, by taking and omega 3 supplement.
Manage your magnesium
Increasing your magnesium intake can assist in supporting deep, restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. Having a good night’s sleep will always have a positive effect on one’s mood. Magnesium containing foods include wholegrain cereals such as barley or buckwheat, dried figs, nuts, pulses and green leafy vegetables.
To wrap up
Next time you are looking for a ‘pick-me-up’, avoid the quick fix and go for something that will help in the long run. For a mood that is more regularly supported, eat foods that support serotonin, improve your gut health and optimize your blood sugar levels. In addition, slow down on caffeine and increase your omega 3 fats and magnesium intake.