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 factors, but there are many foods we can eat that can help our bodies deal with stress, fatigue, depression, hunger, and some of the more controllable influences on 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.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids are vital to combatting inflammation in the brain. Inflammation in the brain, even when microscopic, does damage to the neurons and alters the productivity of our most vital organ. By counteracting inflammation we fight depression, anxiety, ADHD, and dementia.
Magnesium, selenium, and the amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan are crucial to the synthesis of hormones, including serotonin, dopamine, and a few other mood-boosting neurotransmitters.
Fiber alleviates hunger and the irritability that comes with it. Fiber also helps digestion and releases nutrients slowly into the bloodstream so the body has time to put them to good use. Carbohydrates are what the brain uses for fuel. When we eat good carbohydrates, our brains thrive on them and our mood improves. Antioxidants protect the brain from the damaging effects of environmental pollutants, free radicals, and aging. Antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, and many phytonutrients found in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Oats, brown rice, and quinoa supply the body with complex carbohydrates 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. Avocado is rich in omega 3 essential fatty acids and tyrosine.
Red bell pepper has more vitamin C than an orange, along with B vitamins and magnesium. Spinach is rich in magnesium, iron, and folate, a 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 proteins, 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.
Other Foods and Activities
Olive oil is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids when used in moderation. Salt is detrimental in large amounts, but still necessary for health in small doses, especially when 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. Dark chocolate stimulates the brain to produce serotonin, the body’s natural antidepressant. It can be a sweet mood booster if also used in moderation.
Sunlight 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. Exercise is a natural stimulant and 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 boosts mood in ways that serotonin and dopamine cannot. Sleep well, not too much and not too little. Our body and mind depend on the repair processes that take place during sleep.
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 food will give you the better mood you are looking for.
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