“You are what you eat.”
We’ve all heard this adage before, but recent research suggests it may be truer than anyone previously thought. As our understanding of how the human brain processes moods and emotions grows, the link between diet and mood has become steadily more apparent. While many foods are said to affect your mood, positively or negatively, the following have been proven to have an effect.
Chocolate has long been considered a “comfort food,” and many people use it for mood enhancement. A recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology confirmed that small doses of chocolate improve both mood and mental performance. However, chocolate is an incredibly complex food, containing over 600 different chemicals, and the exact mechanism responsible for its mood-improving qualities is still up for debate. Although these same chemicals are present in milk chocolate, they appear in higher concentrations in dark chocolate.
Omega-3 fatty acids have recently become a buzzword in the health industry, and a huge variety of benefits have been attributed to them. One use of omega-3s that has been clinically proven in several studies is the ability to improve mood – even, in some cases, to decrease symptoms of depression. Omega-3s are vital to the body in creating neurotransmitters like serotonin which control mood. Most fish contain omega-3s, and salmon is an excellent source that also has a healthy, balanced nutritional profile.
Mineral rich vegetables, such as kale, Swiss chard and spinach are excellent sources of magnesium. This vital nutrient is necessary in over 300 biological processes, including nerve function, and may have benefits in improving mood and controlling anxiety. Several studies have tested magnesium for mood disorders with positive results, but it is still unclear whether or not the mineral might be useful to otherwise healthy people.
Several nuts contain compounds that may work to improve mood and brain function. Walnuts, for instance, are high in omega-3s, as well as in several minerals which may have a positive impact on mood. Brazil nuts, in addition to omega-3s and magnesium, are very high in other minerals that have been linked to controlling mood and anxiety, including selenium, zinc and B vitamins.
Foods to Avoid
Foods that are heavily processed and high in fat and sugar can have a powerfully negative effect on your mood. Although you may experience an immediate lift because these foods are digested quickly, you will subsequently experience a crash, leaving you tense and probably still hungry. Additives such as preservatives and food colorings have also been linked with an increase in feelings of anxiety.
Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it has a sedative effect on the body. In small doses, this calming effect can be desirable, but it may backfire on you. The spike in sugar can cause an insulin response, leading to a blood sugar crash. This severe dip in blood sugar levels can cause depression, anxiety and sleep disruptions.
A distinction should be made between a bad mood and a clinical mood disorder. These disorders often require medication and professional treatment, and you should never try to self-medicate.
The foods listed above are just a few of the uplifting dietary options available. What do you eat to help improve your mood?