We all know that putting the wrong sort of fuel into the car will mean that it does not run well and may not even run at all. Whilst the body is in some respects “more forgiving” the fuels we feed ourselves will affect how well we function
The connection between what we eat and our mood is an area, which is getting more attention. We know that substances like alcohol affect mood. Foods (not just magic mushrooms) can also have an affect.
First is the “macro” level. A classic example of this is that most people feel better after eating chocolate or enjoying a meal of their favorite food. This occurs through release of serotonin and the bodies’ own endorphins. The effect is not a long lasting one but sensory experiences rarely are. Much like looking at a painting it is enjoyable and you feel good but the moment passes.
The reverse also applies and we all know how we feel after eating a meal that disagrees with us or just “sits” in the stomach.
Of more interest and what has a longer lasting impact is what goes on at the “component” level. There are old adages about “brain foods” and it looks like science may be catching up with this. Foods do affect the neurotransmitters in the brain and in turn these neurotransmitters affect appetite and of course mood.
For example serotonin tends to get released after carbohydrate meals. This generally boosts our mood and makes us feel calmer. Dopamine is released after eating protein. It enhances alertness and concentration. Of course we rarely have meals, which are purely one or the other. Furthermore if the carbohydrates are highly processed, then the reverse effect occurs due to rapidly changing insulin levels.
Various minerals including zinc, magnesium and iron as well as Vitamin D and B group Vitamins affect mood. So do gut bacteria. French research has shown people taking a probiotic had lower stress levels than those not taking one. Again our levels of good bacteria in the gut are affected by what we eat. And guess what? good bacteria like a diet low in processed sugars and high in “real food.”
Children whose brains are still developing are even more affected by what they eat. For the brain to develop, it needs the right foods and not too much of the wrong foods. Not surprisingly the foods needed include fruits, vegetables and fish. This is because they provide the B group vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids and anti oxidants which the brain needs.
The brain does not need artificial coloring or preservatives nor does it need lots of processed sugar. It will tolerate some of this provided it gets enough of the right stuff! Much like a plant needs certain nutrients to grow in the garden, the brain needs the right nutrients as well.
The changes in our diet over the last 30 years are playing havoc with our waistlines and also with our brains. The increase in mental health problems we are seeing is related in part to the foods we are eating. This is both in terms of the brain not getting the nutrients it needs but also getting chemicals it does not need.
So what are the foods for a good mood?
We need to eat good quality protein, good fats (omega 3’s) and foods rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals- you guessed it- whole foods which till recently were moving around or growing somewhere. We also need to minimize processed and refined foods. Just to round it out we need a bit of sunshine, regular exercise and adequate sleep too.
None of this guarantees you will have a good day every day. It does mean your mood is likely to be a better one, come what may.