It’s always tempting to jump into junk foods like French fries, ice cream or an entire bag of potato chips—and when you’re feeling down, anxious or generally melancholy, it can be downright irresistible. Eating your feelings amounts to a bid to achieve some measure of comfort, which leads to going into the refrigerator or cupboard and making the worst possible decisions for your body.
Article at a Glance
Eating For A Better Mood
- You might crave junk food when you’re feeling down, but eating that can actually make you feel worse
- You need food that is packed with nutrients
Your Gut Feeling
- The connection between your brain and your gut can greatly influence your mood
- Neurotransmitters are in your brain, but also in your stomach and gastrointestinal tract
- Serotonin is very important to your mood; the majority of your serotonin is produced in your gut
- Studies show that your diet is crucially important to your body’s production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters.
- An array of nutrients also influences your mood, including antioxidants
Vitamin B For Mood
- Certain B vitamins work as custodians of the brain
- Specifically, vitamin B6 and folic acid work in different ways in the realm of mood and cognitive function
Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Mood
- Fatty acids have demonstrated an efficacy in improving mood
- People who consume omega-3s on a regular basis are shown to have a better overall mood
- The fatty acid EPA shows the most promise in studies involving mood
What Are The Good Mood Foods
- The nutritional content of certain foods makes them perfect candidates for mood-related consumption
- This includes foods that are high in tryptophan (which is converted to serotonin), omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, B vitamins, and more
Eating those salty and sweet treats feels amazing while you’re in mid-binge, but the emotional plummet that follows is often worse than the feelings that made you eat poorly in the first place. That’s because the foods you eat are intimately tied to how good—or bad—you feel emotionally, and your brain needs a healthy array of nutritional options in order for your mood to avoid the creeping malaise.
That’s right, so-called good mood food works to boost your brain and nudge it towards happy, positive feelings—and this is due to the nutritional components that collaborate with your brain’s neurotransmitters influencing and regulating your mood. What are some of the nutritional avenues on the way to a good mood and what are the physiological processes involved in a flourishing mindset?
Your Stomach’s Influence On Mood
As we’ve previously discussed in depth, your gut-brain connection links mood and anxiety in your mind to the conditions in your stomach. It’s a signaling system that works both ways—with your brain affecting your stomach and your stomach affecting your brain. This intimate connection between your brain and your gut makes both of them sensitive to anger, happiness, anxiety, and sadness.
And while you might be well aware that neurotransmitters are in your brain, you might be surprised to learn that they are also in your stomach. That’s right, the trillion-or-so gut microbes inside of you are some of your body’s major producers of neurotransmitters, including the infamous mood influencer, serotonin.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that greatly influences and regulates your mood. As a chemical messenger, serotonin acts as a mood stabilizer. And when levels are low, your brain starts to conjure up negative feelings and a generally depressed mood, along with irritability and even bouts of insomnia. Your body converts the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, so by eating high-protein foods that are rich in tryptophan like pumpkin seeds, soybeans, poultry, eggs, peanuts, and more, you can influence your body into producing more serotonin, thereby improving your overall mood. And studies do show that acute tryptophan depletion can lead to a worsening mood.
Furthermore, your gut also produces the anxiety and depression regulating neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric (GABA)—a production which studies show can be increased when you eat certain probiotics and prebiotics.
With 90 percent of your serotonin receptors being located in your gut, it’s no wonder that the nutrients you ingest can greatly influence your mood, good and bad. Indeed, a healthy, balanced diet that avoids inflammation-producing foods could potentially help support a good mood. For example, this study mentions the Mediterranean diet as one of the leading approaches to improving mood, and this is mainly because many of the elements in that diet are antioxidant and richly anti-inflammatory.
Meanwhile, another study went a bit further and specifically outlined the nutrients that could protect against mood disorders like depression—these nutrients include folic acid, iron, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and zinc.
If there’s one characteristic these nutrients share, it is a talent for delivering antioxidant benefits, which help to purge your body of cell-destroying free radicals. Fruits and vegetables are well known for being rich in antioxidants, particularly highly touted antioxidants like phenolic flavonoids, lycopene, carotenoids, glucosinolates, resveratrol, lutein and zeaxanthin.
Possessing varying benefits to the body, these antioxidants work their way through the gut and could very well fight neurological ailments and adverse mood conditions. Studies show that by reducing roving gangs of free radicals, antioxidants could potentially improve the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.
How B Vitamins Could Ease Your Mind
B vitamins are the custodians of the brain, performing maintenance and metabolizing carbohydrates into fuel the brain can use, while also facilitating the production of neurotransmitters—the mood regulators and tireless messengers of the brain. Specific to the brain, the most useful B vitamins are B6 and folic acid (B9).
Folic acid is vital to the nervous system and even more crucially important in the realm of mood and cognitive function. Research shows that the highest incidence of folic acid deficiency occurs in older populations, with a close association to depression, lack of motivation, and withdrawal, along with age-related neurodegenerative conditions.
Meanwhile, one study demonstrates that a deficiency in vitamin B6 and iron could trigger chemical changes in the brain that lead to various forms of anxiety, like hyperventilation and panic attacks. Data from this study shows that individuals suffering from anxiety displayed low levels of B6 and iron—with researchers coming to the conclusion that vitamin B6 could potentially play a role in synthesizing serotonin.
The Mood Benefits Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
If you’re a fan of fatty fish, there are few bites as enlightening as a morsel of perfectly cooked salmon. The rendering of those healthy fats within produces an impossibly juicy experience and when the skin is crisped up just right, it’s sublime counterpoint to the succulent flesh. Indeed, the combination of flavor and texture can heal your bad mood in an instant.
But there’s something else within salmon besides the flavorful components that could make your brain perk up: omega-3 fatty acids. The nutrient that made fish oil famous and is found in salmon, mackerel, sardines, and more, is being studied as a potential key to feeling mentally better on a more consistent basis. The omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are important for a well-functioning nervous system and the transmission of signals to and from the brain. And it’s this special function that could signal the fatty acids’ usefulness in mood.
Studies seem to indicate that people who consume omega-3 fatty acids on a regular basis are less likely to battle with depressive feelings. And it’s not just the actual food source, as studies show that people who start to take omega-3 supplements improve their symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Meanwhile, it seems that the fatty acid EPA is uniquely equipped to help you maintain a healthy mood, as it reduces inflammatory processes in the brain by balancing out metabolic pathways. One specific study found that EPA was as effective against depression as common antidepressant drugs.
How Does Magnesium Help You Deal With Depression & Anxiety?
It might seem like the trendy mineral of the moment, but magnesium has some real benefits for your mental health. Specifically, studies have shown that a magnesium deficiency could be linked to various types of depression. And another study showed an association between low levels of magnesium and depression was especially pronounced in younger adults.
Meanwhile, one study involving close to 9,000 individuals found that those under the age of 65 with the lowest levels of magnesium had a 22 percent greater risk of developing depression. As for the older generation, one study showed that magnesium supplementation could potentially decrease incidents of depression.
Magnesium could also provide a helpful hand in the brain’s battle with anxiety. In a 2010 study regarding natural options for soothing anxiety, magnesium was among the highlighted nutrients. And as recently as 2017, magnesium was specifically lauded for its anxiety-fighting prowess in a review that gathered the results of 18 different studies in which anxiety was quelled with magnesium. These varying types of anxiety included mild, premenstrual, postpartum, and generalized anxiety.
These mood benefits also relate to the potential for magnesium to help you get a better night’s sleep. Research has demonstrated that the mineral could potentially increase the neurotransmitter GABA, which works to relax your thinking so that you can sleep better. Some evidence also shows that magnesium could help older adults fall asleep faster and could be useful for those with restless leg syndrome.
What Are The Good Mood Foods?
If there’s a collection of nutrients that have the power to influence your mood, then that means there are specific foods you can eat that will give you the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients that could potentially help you to avoid falling into the mental trap of sadness, anxiety, worry, anger, and other negative feelings.
Some of these foods trigger the production of serotonin in your brain and gut, and other foods simply give you the varied dose of nutrients you need. Let’s take a look at some of those essential eats.
The high-protein levels in eggs can boost your tryptophan levels, but be sure to include the yolks in your preparation. Not only are yolks arguably the most delicious part of an egg, but they are also rich in mood-influencing nutrients like tryptophan, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, lecithin, choline, and biotin, while also boasting antioxidant properties and minerals like zinc and magnesium that can ease anxiety.
Wild Fatty Fish:
Besides being a fantastic source of omega-3 fatty acids, fatty fish—including salmon, mackerel, and sardines—is also high in tryptophan.
As bacteria in your gut sends and receives signals to the brain along the gut-brain axis, it makes sense that you should feed your gut microbiome food that can help it perform more efficiently.
An important source of B vitamins, whole grains deliver the nutrients needed to support your neurotransmitters, while also converting glucose into energy and putting in work to convert tryptophan into serotonin.
Spinach and other leafy green vegetables, along with edamame, avocado, and okra, contain the B vitamin folate (folic acid), which we learned earlier is great for mood.
Caffeine (In Moderation):
Caffeine has been found to trigger the release of brain chemicals like dopamine, which influences brain performance and mood. Of course, caffeine can have a variety of effects on different people. For some people, it’s the perfect mood boost, while others might feel jittery or irritable when they consume too much coffee/caffeine. Know your body and ingest accordingly.
Better Days With Healthier Food
If you’re feeling low on a consistent basis, small dietary changes could potentially make a difference. Everyone gets locked into negative thoughts or a “bad mood” for different reasons, but certain nutrients have been shown to put a positive spin on some people’s general outlook. And while the tempting allure of junk food might feel comforting, don’t be fooled into indulging the whims of your mood to the detriment of your overall mental health.