Recently on Facebook I posted this article, “This Is Your Brain on Food: The Link Between Eating Well and Mental Health“, which created quite the interest in the powerful connection between food and your brain. It’s a fantastic article, so make sure you bookmark it for later. For now, here’s a quick summary and some practical advice on where to get started with mood boosting foods.
The key to eating to improve our mood is to boost our brain chemicals – specifically serotonin and dopamine – with natural “feel good” foods.
Serotonin is biochemically derived from tryptophan, and is our largest contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness, while dopamine is a “reward” chemical that our brain releases in response to pleasurable experiences, such as eating or sex.
While this is important all year round, it becomes even more so as you enter the winter months, where your vitamin D from natural sunlight is reduced. If you live in parts of the world with extended periods of darkness, prioritising your nutrition is key to preventing conditions such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
- Snack On Walnuts
Walnuts are particularly high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a vegetable form of omega 3. This is essential for vegetarians, vegans and non-fish eaters alike. Have you ever noticed how much walnuts halves resemble the human brain? That’s no coincidence – they really are the perfect brain food. Other ALA packed foods are seeds – add flaxseeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds to salads, smoothies and stirfrys too.
- Add Sweet Potato
Sweet potato is one of the best natural sources of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates promote the production of serotonin, our number one feel-good brain chemical. Add a small palm-sized serve to your next post-exercise meal to improve you mood and accelerate your recovery from training. Aim to eat within the 60 minute window post-exercise to ensure you maximize the benefits of your refueling nutrition.
- Throw a Banana In Your Training Bag
Bananas are packed full of potassium, vitamins B6, A, and C and natural carbohydrates. Vitamin B6 helps convert tryptophan into mood-lifting serotonin and carbohydrates also aid in the absorption of tryptophan in the brain. As bananas offers a quick boost of energy, these are a perfect post-exercise snack. Pack one in your training bag so you don’t miss the “window”.
- Eat Oily Fish
Oily fish are great sources of omega 3 – essential fatty acids that our bodies don’t produce their own. Omega 3 positively alters our serotonin and dopamine levels, which helps to improve mood, cognition and some behavioural disorders. Aim to eat two to three serves of oily fish per week. Great choices are salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel and trout.
- Eat Your Greens
Leafy greens in particular are rich in the B vitamin, folate. Folate helps to produce neurotransmitters that regulate our mood, and in particular, serotonin. High blood folate levels have been linked with low depressive symptoms, so add some broccoli, spinach or Brussel sprouts to your plate today!
- Treat Yourself to Dark Chocolate
The great news is that chocolate contains our mood-boosting compounds, theobromine and phenylethyamine. Studies have shown that the added antioxidants in dark chocolate help to reduce our stress hormone cortisol, especially in people with increased levels of anxiety. To avoid the sugar, opt for brands such as Pana Chocolate (choose their Fig + Wild Orange or Sour Cherry + Vanilla to avoid high fructose agave) and limit your intake to once or twice or week.
Here’s a simple shopping list to get you started:
Mood Boosting Shopping List
It’s always about nutrient dense whole food. You really are what you eat.