Most People know that emotional eating or stress eating by design can affect your mood. But many of us don’t understand that our mood and diet are linked no matter what we eat. Learn how to improve your mood through your diet.
Minor tweaks to your diet can help you control your mood, by influencing the level of certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Your diet also impacts the number of hormones your body produces such as Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins. These hormones can have a direct and lasting impact on your happiness. Here are some ways your diet and mood are connected, and how to improve them both.
Meal Size In Your Diet And Mood Response
Meal size can affect mood response. Specifically, large meals have shown to reduce mental alertness and performance. Especially, for meals containing large amounts of fat, since fat can slow down food absorption. When you slow down your food absorption blood flow to the stomach is increased for a longer period of time, resulting in less blood flow to the brain. The result is a very calming effect on the body, resulting in drowsiness, sluggishness, and less ability to focus and concentrate. Although this may be what you want, sometimes it is good to give your brain a rest. However, this should not be the norm or a daily occurrence, or you will have greater health consequences than just your mood.
When You Eat And How It Impacts Your Mood
Most of the food to mood response is short term. For example, when you eat a steak at dinner you may increase your alertness and concentration for two to three hours after eating. Or another example, eating a large pasta meal will produce the opposite effect. Such as a calming response for two to three hours following a high carb meal. Fortunately, combing both protein and carbs into a single meal can counteract the individual effects of these foods.
How Neurotransmitters Change From Your Diet And Affect Your Mood
You are more alert when your brain is producing the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. In contrast, you are more relaxed and calm when your brain is producing the neurotransmitter serotonin. A stable brain serotonin level is associated with a positive mood state; while reduced serotonin can result in a depressive state. Another thing to consider is the effect of co-factors on neurotransmitters and resulting mood.
What Are Cofactors?
Cofactors are involved in the synthesis of neurochemical transmitters and can affect neurotransmission. Some of these cofactors include Vitamin B6, Zinc and Magnesium. Specifically, these chemicals are cofactors in the enzyme aromatic acid decarboxylase, which converts dihydroxy-phenylalanine to dopamine and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) to serotonin. As a result, a deficiency in vitamin B6 can lead to a decrease of a particular neurotransmitter.
Positive Mood And Diet Stress Reduction
Endorphins are another group of chemicals that can influence your mood and appetite. That is Endorphins are your body’s natural opiate-like chemicals that produce a positive mood state. Additionally, Endorphins decreased pain sensitivity and reduced stress. Your body releases Endorphins when you are in pain, during starvation, and during exercise. A food substance that produces similar effects as endorphins is phenylethylamine, which is found in chocolate.
Foods That Can Increase Your Serotonin
Foods high in carbohydrates can increase the production of serotonin in the brain and have a calming effect on the body. For instance, a big spaghetti dinner will raise your levels of serotonin, and temporarily will have a calming effect on the mind and body. Carbohydrates affect brain serotonin because they increase the amount of tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan is the amino-acid precursor of serotonin. It is this mood and diet relationship that can help explain why you may feel drowsy in the afternoon after eating a large carbohydrate meal. The subsequent rise in serotonin in the brain is what leads to drowsiness.
The following foods increase serotonin levels which contribute to a calming, anti-anxiety mood:
Chocolate is a highly valued commodity in many cultures. The popularity of Chocolate may be from how it makes you feel and not from how it tastes. Sure, most of the chocolate on the market is high in sugar and fat to make it candy. But there is plenty of evidence that chocolate improves your mood temporarily due to its high levels of phenylethylamine and caffeine. The sugar that is added to chocolate is associated with a release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and the fat and phenylethylamine are associated with an endorphin release. Chocolate also contains anandamide, which targets the same receptors as THC, and also produces a cozy, euphoric feeling. Subsequently, the caffeine in chocolate adds a temporary stimulant effect, which makes chocolate the optimal “brain happiness food.” It may also be why many choose chocolate when depressed as it improves their overall state of mind.
Although most people think of oatmeal as carbohydrate-dense. You may not be aware that oatmeal is a great energy food since it is low on the glycemic index. Additionally, for oatmeal to be an optimal energy food it should include a protein side dish that will reduce the serotonin increase from the carbohydrates. This is because carbohydrate intake causes your body to send out an amino acid called tryptophan into the brain to trigger the manufacture of serotonin. As we discussed serotonin is the neurotransmitter that makes you feel tranquil and calm. By eating carbohydrate foods that are rich in fiber, like oatmeal, your body will absorb them slowly. For that reason, the slow absorption will keep the serotonin flowing steadily. Adding protein with such a meal will slow the serotonin release even slower.
Video On Other Foods That Increase Serotonin
Dopamine and Norepinephrine Producing Foods
Dopamine and norepinephrine are two other important brain chemicals that you can influence by your diet. Both dopamine and norepinephrine are part of the “fight or flight” chemicals that increase your alertness, concentration and reduce your reaction time. You can increase your levels of dopamine and norepinephrine by eating protein-rich foods. The following food will increase your dopamine and norepinephrine connecting your mood and diet to raise alertness and concentration:
Chicken Chef Salad
You should eat between 4 and 5 ounces of high-quality lean protein, like
chicken breast. Specifically, lean protein without the fat will help your brain create dopamine and norepinephrine, the neurochemicals that keep you alert. Substituting the ranch or another high in sugar and fat dressing for a balsamic vinaigrette keeps the fat and carbs to a minimum. Fat will slow down your food absorption which reduces blood flow to the brain and will counteract the dopamine and norepinephrine effects. Similarly, for variety, you can have a bowl of greens topped with hard-boiled egg whites, less the yoke, or chopped turkey breast or even tuna.
Eating a high protein meal, like sushi also helps your brain create dopamine and norepinephrine that keeps you alert. Holding the rice or substituting cauliflower rice also minimizes serotonin production. For even more positive benefits a study in Finland found that people who eat more fish are less likely to suffer from depression. Increasing your consumption of fish high in essential fatty acids has also been shown to decrease your risk of heart disease and increase longevity.
Other Foods that Connect Your Mood and Diet
Considering their size, berries are pound for pound one of the best anti-aging and longevity-promoting foods. Low in fat and packed with nutrients, you can not go wrong. Here are just a few of the many proven health benefits of these delicious fruits:
Blueberries contain many vitamins, minerals, and fiber that provide numerous health benefits. Increasing fiber in your diet reduces the risk of many chronic diseases and also helps with controlling hunger. Darker berries such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and goji berries contain high levels of antioxidants. As a result, berries help destroy free radicals that consume cell oxygen, damage the cells and ultimately can wear away your memory.
Also, berries contain a large portion of phytochemicals which can exert a positive effect on brain function. Nutritional antioxidants, such as the phytochemicals found in dark berries can reverse age-related declines in brain function. Specifically, the cognitive and motor deficits associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease may be reduced.
Stress hormones can deplete your body’s supply of magnesium, reducing your stress-coping abilities and increasing your risk of developing stress-related diseases, such as high blood pressure. Solution: take a handful of sesame seeds, or just sprinkle them in a delicious salad.
How To Get The Most Out Of Your Mood And Diet Connection Through Out Your Day
For Morning People
If you are a morning person you need your protein-rich foods during the afternoon and evening. Particularly if you need to be focused later in the day for a meeting or some other work requiring attention to detail. Instead of a lunch of pasta, or an afternoon snack of doughnuts, candy or an energy drink as a morning person you protein. Consider having more protein and fewer carbs for lunch and you will be more alert in the afternoon. For some examples to add protein you could add some chicken, a protein drink, or tuna to your lunch and dinner to increase your levels of dopamine and norepinephrine.
For Night Owls
You night owls can improve your alertness in the mornings if you start your day with a protein-rich breakfast, like an egg-white omelet. Protein provides your brain with tyrosine, an amino acid that is a precursor of the chemicals that promote alertness. A mid-morning snack is another good time to include a protein-rich food, such as cottage cheese or low-fat yogurt.
Hacking Your Mood And Diet Connection
By now you should realize that what you eat has a huge impact on how you feel. You should also understand why comfort foods high in fat and carbs calm you down. Additionally, you should realize that protein-rich foods will increase your energy levels. Most people think about their diet as a way to control their weight, but you should now also think about your diet as a way to control your energy and mood. For more ways to control improve your diet check out our other articles on nutrition here.