While depression, anxiety and stress can be debilitating for many, there are small steps you can take with your nutrition that will help to boost your mood.
Nature’s own medicine; natural whole foods, play a huge role in helping to fuel our brains and our bodies.
By increasing levels of serotonin, an important chemical neurotransmitter in the human body. It makes us feel good, regulates emotions, sleep and our appetites. High levels of serotonin are thought to have a direct link to reducing anxiety, depression and panic attacks.
Serotonin is manufactured in the brain and the intestines. The majority of the body’s serotonin, between 80-90%, can be found in the gastrointestinal tract. To make serotonin, a number of factors can work including positive psychology and light therapy. However, one major way to boost serotonin production is through your diet.
To make serotonin, we need tryptophan, an amino acid. Foods higher in tryptophan levels are linked to improved mood and cognition and increased serotonin levels.
So, how do we boost our levels of tryptophan and increase serotonin, with the help of nutrition?
To experience a surge in serotonin, we need to eat foods that are high in levels of tryptophan. So what should you be eating?
The same amino acids in tryptophan also make up the amino acids in protein, needed to create the feel good factors of serotonin.
Protein is not only full of health benefits for your body, muscles and digestion but it also provides immense brain power.
Sources of good quality protein include lean meats and fish, legumes and dairy.
Also classed as brain power food and containing that all-important tryptophan is foods containing high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids.
Mainly found in oily fish, Omega 3 fatty acids are literally food for your brain. Your brain is like a fat sponge. It is predominantly made of fat. So feed it the good stuff.
Feeling low energy and lethargic? This is your brains way of asking you to feed it. So, instead of reaching for the usual sugary pick me ups (which is exactly what your emotions want) listen to your brain and feed it the healthy fats!
Other great foods full of omega 3 and healthy fats are nuts, oils and avocados.
Last but not least, and a surprise little treat for you. Did you know that dark chocolate has health and mood boosting properties?
Dark chocolate is the ultimate mood booster, and not just because it is chocolate. To get the most out of the serotonin we have created with our mood boosting foods, we now need the last missing piece to the mood puzzle…. endorphins. A release of endorphins boosts serotonin levels, and for this one the answer is dark chocolate. 1 square of dark chocolate can reduce stress and anxiety.
So on the flip side of the serotonin surge, there are foods that also cause a serotonin slump and have been linked to feelings of low mood, depression and anxiety
It’s so easy to reach for the beer or wine after a long, hard and stressful day. We’ve all been there.
Booze is our go-to for times of celebration and commiseration. Acting as a depressant, too much of the old ale lowers those serotonin levels taking us from cloud 9 to the deepest darkest depths of an emotional rollercoaster.
Definitely one thing to avoid if you are feeling low.
A Lack of B Vitamins (Basically, eat your greens!)
Now its all well and good having tryptophan for our serotonin, but we need to make sure that tryptophan is being converted and absorbed. For this we need B vitamins.
So its time to go bananas for bananas! There is a reason why monkeys are always happy – bananas contain numerous vitamins and minerals, the most important ones being vitamin B6, tryptophan, magnesium and potassium (also natural muscle relaxers).
Low levels of B vitamins hinders the production of serotonin, leaving us feeling that low mood where life is an effort.
How else to get a dose of B vitamins? VEGETABLES! There was a reason we were forced to eat our greens as a kid. Green vegetables are loaded with B vitamins and fibre so now’s the time to rekindle your love with broccoli and spinach again.
Contrary to popular belief, carbs are not the devil when it comes to fitness. Natural carbs in the form of sweet potatoes, brown rice, vegetables and fruits offer us a varied and balanced diet also loaded with antioxidants and micronutrients.
Processed carbs however? Definitely not a gift from the gods when it comes to lifting our moods.
We’ve all done it, we’ve all reached for the sugary treat as a pick me up, or binged on pizza or a takeaway. These types of processed carbs offer a quick hit and spike in insulin production that offers a short term high, however once the high is over this is followed by a slump and a definite decrease in mood and energy.
Avoiding junk foods and processed carbs is one way to steer clear of a sugar comedown. Instead, try filling up on sweet potatoes, brown rice, and plenty of colourful veggies.
Mood Boosting Meals
Food is our brain’s medicine, and our brain is our own best pharmacy. Eating to live your best life possible should never feel like a chore.
Here are some examples of mood boosting meals that can really help to not only lift your mood, but provide your body with well-needed nutrients and help to power your brain for better concentration, sleep, and weight loss.
•Oats with cinnamon, bananas and your favourite nut butter
•Scrambled Eggs with bacon, tomatoes and spinach
•Salmon, avocado and beetroot with feta cheese and quinoa
•Lentils, cucumber, halloumi, chilli, mint and pomegranate
•Chicken, pesto and lentils with green beans
•Pad Thai chicken with soy sauce, peanuts and stir fry vegetables
•Yoghurt, berries with grated dark chocolate and flaked almonds
Ashlee Winstanley is a qualified nutritionist and coach with Body Composition Coaching. She is passionate about educating and motivating people to use nutrition to fuel a happy, healthy life.
For coaching opportunities, or to arrange a free consultation with Ashlee, please contact Body Composition Coaching.