Posted on May 10, 2022, 2 p.m.
People often think of food as something that just tastes good, but it’s so much more. The foods we eat have a measurable impact on body chemistry, and as a result, can have many positive and negative effects. Different types of food trigger the production of various chemicals in the body and in the brain so that what you eat really does affect your health, your energy, your comfort, and your mood.
Neurotransmitter Chemicals and Hormones in the Brain Affect Mood
Neurotransmitter chemicals such as serotonin dopamine, glutamate, and norepinephrine, along with hormones, relay communications between brain cells. It’s this process that causes people to feel happy or sad, frightened or calm. The foods we eat contain nutrients that either help or hinder the production of these important chemicals.
Certain diets provide the nutrient components that help to produce more of the beneficial chemicals the brain needs to regulate mood, while other foods impact the production of feel-good chemicals. The Mediterranean diet, which is built around fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olive oil and fish offers the greatest concentrations of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that produce these beneficial brain chemicals. In fact, in a number of studies, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms in both the old and the young.
That Craving For Chocolate
Chocolate seems to be a part of every celebratory occasion, whether on Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, or other occasions. Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, contains a number of chemicals that help to boost brain function and mood. Polyphenols and methylxanthines have a beneficial effect on insulin resistance and blood vessel dilation. And they work as inflammatory compounds. They also help to improve cognitive ability and mood. Chocolate should contain at least 70 percent cacao for these benefits.
Bananas and Berries
Snacking is one area of food consumption that can derail your good intentions for better nutrition and improved mood. Snack foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat may satisfy your hunger, but they don’t provide the nutrients that produce neurotransmitter chemicals for brain function or to help support mood. If you choose snacks such as a banana or a handful of berries, your body will receive vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help to support good physical health and better mood regulation.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Brain Function and Mood
Fish, seafood and some types of vegetables contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, components that have known beneficial effects on cognition, memory and mood. Studies have shown that increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce depression symptoms. Increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet can help to regulate your mood.
Why Carbohydrates Are A Comfort Food
If you’ve ever felt the need to load up on carbs during a busy time, it’s because these foods deliver a fast release of glucose in the bloodstream, which helps to boost energy. This increase of glucose is also used by the brain, stimulating the production of serotonin, a chemical that produces a feeling of well being. That’s why people often seek out high carbohydrate “comfort foods” during difficult periods. However, that rapid influx of glucose into the bloodstream and brain is often followed by a compensating “crash" soon afterward, which has a negative effect on both mood and energy.
Protein Helps To Regulate Blood Sugar in the Body and Stabilizes Mood
Protein-rich foods like poultry, legumes and fish contain amino acids that are necessary for the production of neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. The amino acid called L-tryptophan can be synthesized to produce dopamine, an important neurotransmitter chemical. Low dopamine levels are associated with depression, ADHD, schizophrenia and other conditions. Eating protein-rich foods can also help you to avoid eating foods that contain high amounts of sugar and fat. So, if you crave a snack to help you lift your mood, reach for a protein food, which will help to boost your spirits without adding empty calories or causing fluctuations in blood sugar levels.
A Good Mood Helps You Choose Healthier Food
Exercise has always been recommended for developing a healthier lifestyle, and it can also help with mood regulation. But the exercise habit itself can also help you to make better food choices. One study found that exercise helped young adults choose fewer high-fat, high-calorie foods and more nutritious, healthier options. The exercise helps to produce a more positive mindset that also causes you to prefer healthier food choices.
Change Your Mood With Careful Food Choices
If you start to think about food differently, more as medicine than a gastronomic treat, you will find yourself making better choices that help you to feel better physically and maintain more balanced moods. This can be helpful for those who are dealing with depression, anxiety, substance abuse issues and other mental health conditions, as well as for anyone who simply wants to feel better during the day and perform better in their daily tasks.
This article was written for WHN by Patrick Bailey, a blogger and health advocate.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.
Content may be edited for style and length.
Materials provided by:
Share.upmc.com – How Brain Chemicals Influence Mood and Health
Pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov - The Effects of a Mediterranean diet on the symptoms of depression in young males
Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov - Food and mood: How Do Diet and Nutrition Affect Mental Well Being
Mhconn.org – The Connection Between Protein and Your Mental Health
Nature.com - The influence of 15-week exercise training on dietary patterns in young adults
SunshineBehavioralHealth – 30-day treatment programs