Sometimes your brain can stitch you up. It happens when you’re feeling lackluster and your mind tells you a sweet treat will sweeten your mood, or a bowl of fries will fix your frustrations. While this is seldom the best solution, succumbing to your cravings isn’t always a bad thing. Every bit of happiness counts, and if a certain food can give you an instant mood boost, then that's great. But if you want sustained high spirits for the long term, it pays to know the nutritional habits that will help make this happen.
There’s an undeniable link between food and your mood. Plenty of scientists have explored the association between diet and mood state and there’s evidence that a balanced nutrient-packed diet can ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Now, a growing number of nutritional psychiatrists are prescribing specific foods as part of treatment plans.
Are these nutritional psychiatrists likely to be recommending donuts or hotdogs? It’s highly unlikely.
Nutritional psychiatrists are skilled in the science of adjusting diet to help improve the body’s regulation of the mood-boosting chemicals, serotonin and dopamine. They know that a healthy gut microbiome is linked to lower rates of mood disorders and it’s only when the body processes nutrient-dense food that it promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut. The good gut bacteria then stimulate the production of serotonin and dopamine – and when we have high levels of these important chemicals our mental state is in good shape. When the production of serotonin and dopamine goes awry, so too can your mood. Keeping blood sugar levels stable is another part of the picture, as this reduces irritability and mood swings.
Of course, you don't need to rely on the expertise of a nutritional psychiatrist to start leveraging food for your mood. It all comes down to eating the rainbow and enjoying a balanced diet packed with colorful fruits and vegetables, omega-3s, whole grains, lean protein, and limited sugar, sodium and saturated fat.
6 common foods that will boost your mood
Bananas will fuel you with fiber and natural sugars that are slowly released into your bloodstream, helping stabilize blood sugar levels and your mood. They provide vitamin B6, which promotes the production of dopamine and serotonin, while the prebiotic fiber is great for a healthy gut microbiome (which is linked to lower rates of mood disorders)
Fatty fish like salmon is packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential fats that you need in your diet (as your body cannot produce them on its own). When you eat salmon, you get a good dose of the Omega-3 fatty acids — docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – which are shown to improve mood for both healthy individuals and anyone suffering depression.
Porridge (or overnight oats)
Oats are high in fiber, which helps control carbohydrate digestion so that sugar is released slowly into your bloodstream and energy levels are kept stable. Research shows that when you have fiber in the morning, your mood and energy levels are superior. Oats are also a good source of iron, which is important as low iron is linked to fatigue and mood disorders.
Studies show those who eat mushrooms are less likely to feel depressed. This is thought to be because mushrooms are laden with vitamin D, B-vitamins, fiber and antioxidants – which are all linked to healthy moods. Mushrooms are also packed with the antioxidant ergothioneine, which may lower oxidative stress and ease feelings of depression.
Nuts and seeds
Brazil nuts are a particularly smart choice as they are a potent source of selenium. Selenium helps generate antioxidant proteins and thyroid hormones and is linked to a lower likelihood of depression. Pumpkin seeds and chia seeds are also good options, as they are high in magnesium. Magnesium assists blood pressure and blood sugar regulation, and research shows those with low levels of magnesium are more likely to report feelings of anxiety and depression.
We all know that chocolate has mood-boosting benefits – and science has even confirmed a link between eating chocolate and reduced feelings of depression. However, it's only when you dial up the cocoa content that you tap into the mood-boosting benefits. Dark chocolate is rich in cocoa polyphenol compounds that increase feel-good feel chemicals in the brain, whereas milk chocolate has more sugar – which can lead to mood spikes and crashes.
The foods most likely to mess up your mood
If you want to maintain a well-balanced mood, here are the foods to eat in moderation.
- Sugary treats
- Sugary sodas and juices
- Processed foods
- Refined grains
- Processed meats, red meats
Keen to set yourself up for a lifetime of healthy and nutritious eating? Start by putting these six simple steps into practice.
The Les Mills Fuel Reset is a guided learning experience featuring weekly videos, recipes, ongoing support and more. It will help you take control of your eating and find the foods that are best for your body, your energy levels and your emotions. You can sign up now with LES MILLS+.