“You are what you eat.” We’ve all heard it. But have you ever thought that you might feel what you eat?
Since our bodies and minds are intimately connected, the food we consume affects our mood. You’ve probably noticed foods that make you feel irritable. Eating too many sweets can lead to a sugar crash, and overindulging in heavy foods can make you feel tired and cranky.
But there are also foods that you can eat to improve your mood. Scientific studies are exploring the ways that food affects our mental health and general well-being. So which foods and nutrients can you eat to boost your mood?
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Having a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to mental health issues.
A study in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health evaluated 26 studies that looked at the connection between eating fish and the risk of depression. These previous studies involved 150,278 participants. Researchers found that people who consumed more fish were at lower risk for depression symptoms. Further research is needed to learn more about this connection and see how omega-3 fatty acids impact depression and mental health in general.
Besides salmon, mackerel, and sardines, you can get omega-3 fatty acids from the following sources:
- anchovies and other oily fish
- canola oil
- pulsane, which is an herb
- fish oil
- flaxseed oil
- echium oil
Your body produces vitamin D when you expose your skin to the sun’s ultraviolet B rays, so spending plenty of time outside is important. Serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that influences mood, may also be affected by vitamin D.
Having a vitamin D deficiency can lead to mood disorders, such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). When you’re unable to spend time outside, you have a higher risk of developing vitamin D deficiency. This may happen if you work indoors, live in an area with high air pollution, or live further from the equator.
Research has also found an association between vitamin D deficiency and depression. However, it is possible to supplement vitamin D and find it in certain foods. These include:
- egg yolks
- canned salmon with bones, which is also a source of omega-3 fatty acids
- foods and beverages that have been fortified with vitamin D, such as milk and orange juice
Probiotics are best known for their positive effect on digestive health. But science is finding that there is a connection between the digestive system and the brain. The gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system communicate with each other in what is known as the “gut-brain” axis. So the nutrients that affect the digestive system may also affect the brain.
A review of 10 previously published studies found that consuming probiotics had a positive effect on mood, anxiety, and cognition. While these results are encouraging, the study’s authors acknowledged that double-blind randomized control trials are needed in order to further investigate them. They also noted that the strain of probiotic, dosing, and duration of treatment varied widely among the studies they reviewed.
Besides taking a probiotic supplement in capsule form, there are several foods you can eat that contain probiotics. Many of them are fermented.
B Vitamins in Whole Grains
B vitamins are essential for brain function, and each has a different role to play. In particular, vitamin B6 converts tryptophan, an amino acid, into serotonin, which greatly affects our mood. Other B vitamins impact memory, learning, and energy.
Whole grains are an excellent source of B vitamins. Some examples are:
- brown rice
- wild rice
- steel-cut oatmeal
Leafy Green Vegetables
Another important B vitamin is folate, which is found in leafy green vegetables. Scientific research has found an association between depression and low folate levels. Having a folate deficiency can also impact how serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline are metabolized. These are all neurotransmitters that are important for mood regulation.
If you want to increase your folate intake, try eating:
Caffeine (In Moderation)
If you enjoy a morning cup of coffee, you’ll be happy to learn that caffeine triggers the release of dopamine, which has a positive impact on mood. One study found a positive association between drinking coffee and lowering the risk of depression.
But don’t let that news lead to you downing five cups of coffee a day. The overconsumption of caffeine can have adverse effects like the jitters, irritability, and sleeplessness. According to the above-mentioned study on coffee, 1 ⅔ cups is the optimum amount of coffee to drink per day in order to benefit from its mood-boosting effects. If drinking coffee at all leads to issues for you, try a beverage that is lower in caffeine, like green, black, or chai tea.
Daily, Nutritious Breakfast
Eating a daily nutritious breakfast has been associated with a lower risk of depression symptoms. Make sure that you’re getting plenty of fiber, nutrients, and healthy fats in your first meal of the day. If you have difficulty finding time to eat breakfast in the morning before you head out the door for work, try preparing your breakfast the night before. Place cut-up fruit and granola in containers so they’re ready to go in the morning. You can also keep steel cut oats at work and add hot water to them once you get there.
A Healthy Body and Mind
Eating mood-boosting foods can help you experience positive changes in your mood over time. What is most important is eating an overall healthy diet and making sure you get sufficient exercise. If you notice that you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. They will be able to offer you advice and might help you with a referral to a mental health specialist.