Food has a HUGE ability to influence your mood – for better and for worse.
You probably don’t need me to tell you this. If you’ve ever slipped into a blissed out food coma after a delicious carb rich meal, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve struggled to focus and had to battle sugar cravings after a few days of bad eating habits, you’ve experienced the other end of the spectrum too.
For years, ‘mental health’ and ‘physical health’ were always regarded as two separate subjects. But the more we learn about nutrition and the sheer web of complexity that is the human body, we’re beginning to realise just how closely linked the two subjects are.
One thing we know for sure is that eating the right foods can make us happier, more focused, more productive and more relaxed. Simple changes can literally transform our brain chemistry and turn us into higher performing versions of ourselves. And who doesn’t want that?
Here are my 3 top tips for creating the ultimate mood boosting diet, so you can feel on top of the world whatever the world throws at you.
#1 - Fix your gut
A good mood starts with a healthy gut. It sounds crazy, but here’s why.
Think back to the last time you felt nervous. Perhaps it was a first date, a job interview or a bungee jump. Do you remember that feeling of ‘butterflies’ in your stomach in those tentative moments beforehand?
What this shows us is the remarkably close communication between our brain and our digestive system. In fact, our gut has such an impact on the way that we feel, that scientists now commonly refer to it as our ‘second brain.’
Located in our gut are millions of neurons, known as the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). These neurons produce chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which communicate information throughout our body. Our ENS produces approximately 50% of our dopamine, the hormone that controls our pleasure and reward receptors, and over 95% of our serotonin, otherwise known as the ‘feel good’ hormone.
With this in mind. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that when your digestive system is out of whack, you soon start to feel pretty crummy. When our gut function is impaired, our ability to produce dopamine and serotonin becomes compromised. It’s no wonder, therefore, that clinical trials have shown those with poor digestive health are more likely to suffer from autism, ADHD and depression1.
The most important thing to take from all of this is to understand the relationship between your gut and your brain, and how a good mood and jolly demeanour starts with a healthy digestive system.
#2 - Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
Managing inflammation is one of the most important things you can do for your immune system, exercise recovery and overall health. As it turns out, it’s also an extremely important factor for keeping us in a good mood.
During an inflammatory reaction, our body produces chemicals called ‘cytokines,’ which have been shown to negatively impact our mood and in some cases, even cause depression2. We all experience small, short term inflammatory reactions on a daily basis. But when our body is in a state of chronic inflammation, the continuous production of these cytokines can have a severe impact on our mental wellbeing.
Poor dietary choices are the number one cause of chronic inflammation. If you don’t want these little mood-spoiling chemicals floating around your body every day, it’s time to take a look at your diet.
- Avoid refined sugar and omega 6 rich vegetable and sunflower oils. These are two of the main contributors to inflammation.
- Cook with saturated fats such as coconut oil.
- Avoid a diet heavy in meat and dairy, particularly factory farmed.
- Berries, citrus fruits, green vegetables, garlic, cinnamon and turmeric are some of the best foods for fighting inflammation.
#3 - Eat mood boosting superfoods
Now your gut is in a good place and your diet is dialled in, it’s time to start throwing some of my favourite mood boosting superfoods into the mix. These foods literally light up the pleasure receptors in the brain, causing an amazing cocktail of feel good hormones to surge around your body.
Dark chocolate: You don’t need me to tell you that chocolate makes you feel good. Chocolate contains a unique compound called phenylethylamine (PEA), a proven mood enhancer, and also triggers the release of endorphins.
Acai berry: Acai is rich in antioxidants and a powerful anti-inflammatory, but it also contains high concentrations of theobromine, a compound shown to have mood elevating benefits. Starting your day with a teaspoon or two of acai in your smoothie is a great way to enjoy a natural mood boost!
Brazil nuts: Brazil nuts are the richest source of selenium on the planet, with just 4 nuts providing you with your RDA of this mineral. Selenium has been shown in numerous clinical trials to be a powerful mood booster, especially in those with an existing deficiency.
Sea vegetables: Seaweeds and other edible sea vegetables such as spirulina, chlorella and kelp are some of the best dietary sources of iodine, a nutrient that is key in healthy thyroid function and hormone balance. Not enough iodine can trigger fatigue and depression, so it is vitally important to be getting enough of this mineral.
Maca: Maca has been shown in clinical trials to improve mood and mental wellbeing³. It's a great hormone balancer too. I recommend using a high quality gelatinised maca powder, as it's much easier to absorb all the goodness.
Before I sign off, don’t forget that diet is just one part of the equation when it comes to maintaining a good mood. Regular exercise, time spent outdoors, good sleep, and quality time with friends and family are all huge contributors too.
Eat well, stay active, sleep soundly, show gratitude, learn and laugh daily. Keep it simple, try not to stress, and you’ll be amazed at how good you feel! Sources