You know how you’re really committed and motivated to eat healthy? You’re drinking the juices and smoothies and you’re feeling really freaking good right!?
Then there’re those phases you might go through where you give in to the temptation and order fatty pizzas two nights in a row, or chow down on those processed chocolate bars that they’re giving away at work all week and you start to feel like, well… shit!
Is that a coincidence? No. Dietary changes can bring about changes in your brain structure (chemically and physiologically), which can lead to altered mood and behaviour.
It has become widely known that you actually have TWO brains. One in your head and one in your gut. These two systems are connected by the vagus nerve. This is the main pathway your gut bacteria use to transmit information to your brain. The gut bacteria rely on us eating plants and fruits to provide them with energy so that they can produce healthy chemicals which keep our immune system working normally.
Studies show that there is a direct correlation between the consumption of fast foods like pizza, burgers and sausages, with depression.
This study shows that the consumption of chocolate is associated with greater emotional eating and depression. The consumption of fruit was associated with lower anxiety, less depression and emotional distress.
This study shows that the more calories, salt and saturated fat consumed, the more negative the mood was reported.
One of the most important amino acids is tryptophan which is obtained only through food and supplements.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that acts like a natural mood regulator, since it has the ability to help the body produce and balance particular hormones. When ingested, tryptophan is converted by the body into serotonin (the happy hormone) which works with two other hormones, noradrenalin and dopamine, to lift mood, promote relaxation and help ease anxiety.
Interestingly enough, the amount of tryptophan in the foods you eat has only a small influence upon the amount of tryptophan that enters the brain. The amount of tryptophan that enters the brain is determined by the concentration of other large-molecule amino acids present in the blood. A high-protein meal (full of meats, dairy foods, and eggs) provides many other amino acids that compete with tryptophan for entry into the brain. This results in less tryptophan passing into the brain and a decrease in the production of serotonin. So having a low-protein, high carbohydrate diet full of starches, vegetables, and fruits results in the highest levels of serotonin in the brain, because fewer large-molecule amino acids are competing with tryptophan to enter the brain.
Plant based foods high in tryptophan are wholegrains like oats, brown rice and corn, potatoes, bananas, beans/legumes, sesame seeds and walnuts, spirulina and tofu.
Additionally, foods with high levels of magnesium and Vitamin B12 also trigger your body’s feel-good chemicals.
Foods high in magnesium are dark leafy greens, avocados, nuts and seeds and bananas. Plant foods containing Vitamin B12 include tempeh, mushrooms, spirulina, and nori.
Processed junk foods may improve mood in the short term but these effects don’t last very long. For most people, this is often followed by guilt (because we know these foods aren’t good for us) and results in a drop in mood. This can trigger more bad eating and set up a vicious circle.
Other foods to improve your mood
So what types of foods should you consume to encourage feelings of joy and peace of mind? Colourful, vibrant fresh fruits and vegetables of course! Anthocyanin’s are the pigments that give berries like blueberries and blackberries their deep colour. These antioxidants aid your brain in the production of dopamine, a chemical that is critical to memory function and your mood. Foods like papayas, apples, berries and leafy greens will help you feel energised, alive and happy. While processed foods like deep fried chips, spring rolls and pizzas are associated with feelings of anxiety and depression.
I simply cannot overstate the importance of your food choices when it comes to your mood. It works the other way around too – when you’re in a good mood, you’re more likely to make healthy food choices. So create a positive cycle and choose foods that support your gut and mental health to help you live a more joyful life.