Mood Boosting Foods: An Easy Way to Change Your Life!

By: Dr. Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

Make yourself happy with mood boosting foodsScientists have said that our moods are closely associated with the foods we eat. However, identifying mood boosting foods is not quite as simple as providing a specific list of foods for any given mood, however, there are certain nutrients that have been shown to have positive psychological effects. To find out what foods affect you in what ways, many doctors recommend keeping a food diary. This strategy can also be quite helpful in identifying food allergies and sensitivities. When keeping a food journal, you will need to write down everything you eat and at what times. About an hour after every meal or snack, take a moment to jot down how you feel and what kind of mood you’re in. This practice can help you determine what foods boost your mood, and just as important, what foods make you feel more stressed or out of sorts.

Keep track of the foods you eat and how you feel for a couple of weeks to a month and see if you can identify what foods boost your mood and what foods bring you down. As you start making connections, you may find yourself desiring the mood boosting foods and forgoing those foods that make you feel bad. After a few weeks of this type of practice many people find themselves gravitating toward healthier foods, often without even trying. For most people, mood boosting foods tend to be healthier foods. Many people find they feel better through the afternoon when they have a salad for lunch instead of fast food. Our bodies are better able to digest foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, than heavy, greasy, fast food. This is because fast foods do not contain the nutrients the body needs to stay healthy and function optimally.

Mood and the NEM System

The human body contains trillions of microbes, including viruses, fungi, and bacteria in a balanced ecosystem known as the microbiome. Most of the microorganisms in your body are beneficial, and even necessary to good health, while some of the microorganisms can be harmful. These are kept in check by the beneficial microorganisms. The balance between harmful and beneficial like organisms in your body is constantly shifting, and affecting your state of health and well-being. The bacteria, especially those in your gut, are vital in many daily functions including digestion, nutrient extraction, and protection against infection. Some of the best mood boosting foods are those that promote healthy gut bacteria.

In your body, there are six major elements used to help you manage stress. Each of these systems consists of various organs and systems, each of which plays a different, yet connected, role in helping you handle a threat or a demanding situation.

The first two elements are the Neuroaffective and inflammatory response. These elements significantly influence mood, cognitive function, and immunity. The primary components of these two elements are the gut, the brain, and microbiome, along with the autonomic and central nervous systems and the immune system. Anything that happens within any one of these systems influences all of the others.

Mood boosting foods help balance your gut.The bacteria in your gut influence a number of functions in the brain, and in turn, your thinking, emotions, and memory. Approximately three-quarters of the neurotransmitters are produced by the gut bacteria. This is why the connection between the digestive tract and the brain is so critical in maintaining homeostasis, regulating hormone levels, and stimulating the immune system.

Any disturbance in any of these systems can negatively affect your ability to handle stressful situations. Research into bowel disorders shows a strong correlation between these disorders and anxiety highlighting the connection between the brain and the digestive tract. Imbalances in gut bacteria, when added to stressful situations, may cause damage to the gastrointestinal lining and may even compromise the blood brain barrier. These types of imbalances also contribute to inflammation throughout the body.

While there is no specific standard for what makes up a healthy microbiome, due to various considerations, it is easy to see when the microbiome is not healthy, as the gut becomes unstable and unable to function normally. This condition is known as dysbiosis. In individuals with adrenal fatigue this can occur as the result of high levels of stress. Because adrenal fatigue causes the body to take measures to conserve energy, many systems slowdown, including digestion. As digestion slows, food remains in your stomach longer, the body is less able to absorb the nutrients, and inflammation increases.

The link between the gut and the brain has gained much attention recently. Some believe that a number of psychological disorders, most notably depression, may actually be caused by inflammation, that begins in the gut a number of studies on lab animals has shown that transplanting microbes from depressed mice to normal mice actually triggers depression. Anxiety and depression are two of the most common symptoms of adrenal fatigue, making it even more important for sufferers to keep gut bacteria healthy and happy.

Best Mood Boosting Foods

While there are no mood boosting foods that affect every individual in exactly the same way, there are several that seem to be mood boosting foods for most people. Try adding a few of these foods to your diet and see how well they work for you. Be sure to keep track of these foods and your reactions in your food journal.

Dark chocolate – If there is a universal mood boosting food, it may well be dark chocolate. Research shows that eating approximately an ounce and a half of dark chocolate every day for two weeks reduces levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, and participants undergoing intensely stressful situations.

Studies show that whole grains improve emotions and can be considered mood boosting foodsWhole grains – Some studies suggest that complex carbohydrates can stimulate the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with positive feelings. A recent study published in the archives of internal medicine found that people who followed a very low carbohydrate diet were significantly more depressed, more anxious, and more angry than those who consumed a higher carbohydrate diet.

Whole foods – No, not the grocery store, fresh fruits and vegetables. A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry conducted on nearly 3,500 individuals found that those who consumed a diet rich in whole foods were less likely to be depressed or anxious than those who ate a lot of processed foods, fried foods, sweets, and high-fat dairy products. Other studies have found that antioxidants in produce, and omega-3 fatty acids in fish, are linked with lower rates of depression, while folate influences neurotransmitters that affect mood. Swiss chard, in particular, is high in magnesium, while asparagus is an excellent source of tryptophan. Asparagus is also a good choice if you indulge in the occasional alcoholic beverage, as it contains enzymes that can help speed the breakdown of alcohol, reducing hangover. Finally, a handful of tart cherries just before bed will help you fall asleep, and get better quality sleep, putting you in a better mood the following morning. Tart cherries are high in melatonin which is normally produced by the body. However, stress and artificial light can inhibit melatonin production. Whatever foods you choose, you’re sure to find several mood boosting foods in this group.

Coconut – Coconut oil consists of medium chain triglycerides, a specific type of fat that can be converted into usable energy quickly and efficiently, to help prevent feelings of fatigue to the day.

Fish – Oily fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and trout are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient that our bodies cannot produce. Omega-3’s increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain. Many recent studies have found those who eat a lot of fish are less likely to experience depression, postpartum depression, and mood swings.

Caffeine – It is important to be extra cautious with caffeine, as it can cause irritability and problems with sleep. Those with adrenal fatigue, in particular, have to be cautious with caffeine as it can exacerbate their symptoms in the long-term. That said, caffeine can help you feel more alert and improve concentration and reaction times. Caffeine blocks adenosine, a neurotransmitter that inhibits energy boosting brain chemicals. To get the most from your caffeine boost try caffeinated tees. According to a study in the Journal of Nutrition, theanine, an amino acid in many tea varieties may boost the effects of caffeine to improve focus.

Mood boosting foods can help give you the energy you need throughout the day.Ginger tea – If you are sensitive to caffeine try ginger tea instead. Ginger tea does not contain caffeine, so it will not give you jitters or insomnia. What it does have, is significant amounts of antioxidants and nutrients to help keep you focused in the afternoon.

Eggs – If you’ve been told that eggs are a major cause of high cholesterol, I have good news. Eggs are a fantastic source of iron, protein, and B vitamins which are vital in the conversion of food into usable energy. Eggs are a great source of long-lasting energy.

Water – A recent study of appetite followed 120 female college students who tracked everything they ate and drank for 5 days and filled out mood questionnaires. All of the participants were on oral contraceptives, to minimize hormones as a factor. The researchers calculated all of the fluids consumed and found that those who drank more water had lower scores for tension, depression, and confusion. The study did not determine whether women who drank more water were more upbeat, or if the more upbeat women were more likely to drink more water, but another study did look into this connection. In this study, 30 people who typically drank five glasses of water a day were asked to double their intake. After three days, they showed better mood, higher energy levels, and greater satisfaction. The researchers followed up by asking 22 people who typically drank plenty of water to decrease their intake. This group experienced more headaches, worse moods, impaired cognitive function, and more fatigue. Many other studies back up the idea of water and foods with high water content as excellent mood boosting foods.

Eat smaller meals more frequently – This isn’t exactly a mood boosting food, but if you adhere to a standard three meals a day, you may need to make them a bit smaller and add nutritious snacks in between. Hunger and low blood sugar are common causes of irritability.

Mood Busting Foods

There are many foods that are often thought of as mood boosting foods that, while they may taste good and may boost mood temporarily, actually have the opposite effect in the long-term.

Mood boosting foods improve your health and are tasty.Saturated fat – A study known as the Coronary Health Improvement Project followed more than 300 people between the ages of 24 and 81 for six weeks. The study found that a decrease in saturated fat correlated with a decrease in depression.

Alcohol – Though alcohol does give temporary feelings of euphoria, it actually acts as a depressant in the brain and negatively affects all nerve cells. Drinking more alcohol can lead quickly to exaggerated emotions, impaired coordination, and of course, hangover. It is a well-established fact that depressive disorders are often linked with excessive alcohol use.

Sugar – According to a 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Americans consume approximately 22 teaspoons of sugar every single day. While sugar does provide a rush that feels good, that rush is inevitably followed by a crash and irritability. For a better way to satisfy your sweet cravings, try dates. They’re a mood boosting food that will satisfy your sweet tooth, replacing sugar with fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients to sustain your energy levels far longer.

Consuming more mood boosting foods, and avoiding or limiting mood busting foods provides significant benefits to most people. However, if you suffer from certain conditions, such as a systemic infection or adrenal fatigue, you will need to be a bit more cautious. If you have any health condition, be sure to talk with a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your diet.

© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Mood boosting foods

1 Comment

  • Shasha says:

    Gluten is wheat/barley/rye..oats/corn/rice..which may hurt intestines so less nutrients absorb….then cells are not made right to work right to burn food/oxygen/make ATP energy. Health issues may kick in in the brain/body due to gluten. Whole wheat has more gluten and may hurt more.