Happiness leads to healthiness. Your mood actually elevates your well-being. So, let’s talk about feeling good in order to, well . . . feel good!
Our mood is affected by a multitude of factors, like our activity levels, the amount of stress in our lives, our exposure to sunlight, and what we eat. There is no magic elixir that can take care of all the many influences on how we feel, but there are some foods that can help our bodies deal with stress, fatigue, depression, hunger, and some of the more controllable things that can sway our mood.
The brain is a complex organ that relies on the proper building blocks in order to function properly, regulate hormones, and control response to stress. Some of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients it relies on to keep our moods balanced and upbeat include B vitamins, omega 3 essential fatty acids, magnesium, selenium, tryptophan, tyrosine, melatonin, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. Fiber, carbohydrates, and antioxidants are more nutrients that play roles in keeping our mood up and our brains functioning optimally.
B vitamins are critical for healthy mental and emotional well-being. These vitamins are not stored in the body, so we must rely on our daily intake from foods to keep the supply steady. Each B vitamin has a different job in the body, but each one is important and linked to so many other aspects of health. They aid in breaking down amino acids, producing hormones, creating red blood cells, and releasing energy from blood sugar. A deficiency in any B vitamin often leads to fatigue, depression, anxiety, dementia, and even paranoia. Synthetics aren’t the answer. They are made from petroleum derivatives and are not as usable by our bodies as the natural forms found in foods.
These essential fatty acids are vital to reducing inflammation throughout the body and the brain. Inflammation in the brain, even microscopic inflammation, does damage to the neurons and alters the productivity of our most important organ. By counteracting inflammation, we fight depression, anxiety, ADHD, dementia, and more. Healthy fats are also used in the cellular membranes of neurons and to create many of our hormones. Microalgae, purslane, flax seeds, and sacha inchi are some of the best plant sources of omega 3s, but olive oil, hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, avocado, and many other seeds and nuts contain some as well.
Fiber helps alleviate hunger and the irritability that can come with it. Fiber also aids digestion and releases nutrients slowly into the bloodstream so the body has time to put them to good use. Fiber-rich foods abound in the natural world.
Magnesium and selenium are crucial to the synthesis of hormones, including serotonin, dopamine, and a few other mood-boosting neurotransmitters. Potassium, sodium, calcium, and zinc help maintain a healthy and functional nervous system too. Salt is detrimental in large amounts, but is necessary for our health in small doses, especially when we’re active. It helps keep the body hydrated, aids in the removal of wastes, and has been linked to resisting depression; just don’t overdo it.
The amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan are also crucial to the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, and more. Too much protein, especially animal proteins, can contribute to inflammation
Carbohydrates are what the brain uses for fuel. When we eat good carbohydrates, our brains thrive on them and our mood improves. Simple sugars, like we find in snacks, sodas, and many juices, are the enemy of your brain health. They trigger inflammation and make the body respond with excess insulin causing spikes and lows. These yo-yo ups and downs are hard on the body and the brain, resulting in fatigue, loss of focus, fogginess, and even depression.
Antioxidants protect the brain from the damaging effects of environmental pollutants, free radicals, and aging. Antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, and many pigments, flavoring compounds, and other phytonutrients found in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Oats, brown rice, barley, and even some non-grains, like quinoa, supply the body with complex carbohydrates that are naturally paired with fiber to slowly release the right amount of blood sugar for our body and our brain to be happy. Whole grains are also an excellent source of most essential amino acids, including tyrosine and tryptophan. They are also a good source of magnesium, selenium, and B vitamins.
Fruits give a sweet boost to blood sugar without the highs and lows that come from refined and processed sugary snacks. They are lower in calories, full of fiber, and packed with antioxidants. Oranges are a good source of the antioxidant vitamin C. Bananas supply a good amount of magnesium. Tart cherries and grapes are excellent sources of antioxidants, fiber, and even some melatonin, a hormone the body uses during sleep and to control circadian rhythms. Most berries are extremely rich in antioxidants, especially blueberries, acai, goji, and blackberries. Avocado is rich in omega 3 essential fatty acids and tyrosine.
Many vegetables are also a good source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that can improve mood. Red bell pepper has more vitamin C than an orange, along with B vitamins and magnesium. Spinach is rich in magnesium, iron, and folate—another B vitamin linked to mood. Iron plays a role in fighting fatigue by carrying oxygen throughout the body. Other dark green vegetables do the same, like turnip greens, dandelion leaves, asparagus, and broccoli.
Nuts and Seeds
Many nuts and seeds are rich in protein, fiber, omega 3, selenium, B vitamins, and magnesium. Chia is an amazing seed that contains it all: soluble and insoluble fiber, B vitamins, tyrosine, tryptophan, omega 3 fatty acids, selenium, and magnesium. Pumpkin seeds contain a good amount of these too. Walnuts, almonds, and Brazil nuts are rich in omega 3 fatty acids and some selenium too. Sunflower seeds are also rich in vitamin E, selenium, magnesium, and tryptophan.
Legumes are another rich source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and protein. Chickpeas and green beans are a good source of vitamin B6 that helps produce serotonin. Lentils and beans are a good source of folate, fiber, and tryptophan. Legumes are also very filling, eliminating mood swings associated with hunger.
Dark chocolate stimulates the brain to produce serotonin, the body’s natural antidepressant. It can be a sweet mood-booster if used in moderation. It also contains some healthy fats.
Sunlight, though not a food, is important in maintaining a good mood and resisting anxiety. Brief exposure to sunlight helps us make vitamin D which is linked to the regulation of the brain’s neurotransmitters. Mushrooms that have seen the sun will also contain vitamin D, and lichens also produce the sunshine vitamin in the same vitamin D3 form as our bodies.
Also not a food, but exercise is a natural stimulant that releases dopamine and serotonin. You don’t have to run a marathon to see your mood improve, just ten to twenty minutes a day is enough to see the feel-good benefits.
Spending time with loved ones, friends, and family or anyone you care about can have a profound effect on mood. Oxytocin is released when we feel trust, love, and comfort, and this boosts mood in ways that serotonin and dopamine cannot. Find ways to develop trust with people you enjoy spending time with. Talk deeply, share stories, tell jokes, play games, and interact with one another. Our brains crave social interaction and mild challenges. Give them both, but don’t overdo it if you are more of an introvert as that can be draining.
Narratives dump your brain into the head of another person. This escape can be very good for you in moderation. It works your mind, builds vocabulary, develops empathy, increases a sense of trust as you identify with the characters, and even releases stress. As you are carried away in the action and conflicts of a story, your body and brain respond as though it was happening to you. Stress hormones rise during the action and then fall at the conclusion, leaving you less stressed than when you picked up the book.
Sleep is good for you as long as it isn’t too much or too little. Our bodies and minds depend on the repair processes that take place during sleep. Sleep is also the time memories become more fixed in our minds. Getting too little is dangerous to our moods and our brains’ function. Getting too much can leave us sluggish. Get 8 to 10 hours every night.
Pick up de-stressing activities. Reading is great, but you may need to try meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi, aikido, or nature walks to release more of the stress we allow to build up during our weeks.
Avoid Stimulants and Depressants
Coffee, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol all drag down mood, cause addictive highs followed by dangerous lows, and do damage to the compounds our bodies use to combat stress and anxiety. Stick with the gentler dark chocolate and teas if you must, but only in moderation. Better foods will help give you the better mood you are looking for.
You may need to talk to someone professionally about your mood, especially if you are affected by chronic depression or have trouble controlling your mood. No matter what, you are unique and valuable, and I wish you luck as you discover more about how to bolster your mood.