When you think of mood do you consider food and overall diet to be important or not relevant at all? Would you like to learn what foods help boost mood? Whatever side of the fence you sit on there is a lot of evidence to support the role a healthy diet plays in regulating mood and helping manage anxiety and depression and protecting against dementia and cognitive decline. Continue reading below to find out more.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals which allow ‘messages’ to pass from one neuron or nerve cell to another in the brain. There are 5 main neurotransmitters involved in regulating mood and they are glutamate, GABA (gamma amino butyric acid), serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. These neurotransmitters are made from amino acids, the building blocks of proteins which is why it is important to eat a variety of good quality protein sources. Serotonin (the happy hormone), dopamine and GABA are also made by gut bacteria so maintaining a healthy gut by removing processed food and refined sugar from the diet and reducing caffeine and alcohol intake is key.
However it is not just protein that contributes to mood and brain health, healthy fats in particular omega 3 essential fatty acids are also crucial. Following the blood sugar balancing principles (combining carbohydrates with protein and healthy fats) with meals and snacks can also help regulate mood by preventing blood sugar dips. B vitamins, in particular B6, contributes to the production of neurotransmitters but also folate (B9) and B12 are also important to mood and brain health. Vitamin D, magnesium, calcium, potassium, selenium and zinc are other key players in brain function.
So what specific foods can help boost and why?
1. Oily fish especially salmon is a source of omega 3 essential fatty acids DHA (the main fat in the brain) and EPA which are crucial to brain function.
2. Oats provide a slow release of energy into the bloodstream and contain soluble and insoluble fibre which help stabilise blood sugars.
3. Bananas are a source of tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin as well as vitamin B6 and potassium.
4. Fermented foods and drinks like sauerkraut, kimchi, live yoghurt, kefir and kombucha are sources of probiotics which help boost gut health, up to 90% of serotoninis made by gut bacteria.
5. Beans and lentils are excellent sources of mood boosting B vitamins as well as prebiotics which feed gut bacteria.
6. Nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts and peanuts) and seeds (pumpkin, sunflower and sesame) are all excellent sources of tryptophan. Brazil nuts, pine nuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds also provide zinc and selenium.
7. Berries contain antioxidant anthocyanins which help dampen inflammation associated with depression and dementia.
8. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids which help reduce inflammation and eating it helps boost dopamine levels.
Looking at the list above all except dark chocolate are whole foods and apart from oily fish are plant based. The Blue Zones, the five regions in the world with the highest proportion of centenarians have the lowest rates of depression, dementia and mood related disorders of anywhere in the world. And what type of diet is common to all of these zones? You’ve guessed it….a whole foods plant based diet!