Personally (& I know many of you feel similarly), I have tried out a lot of different diets, "miracle cures" etc. in my life already. I just wanted to believe in them so badly that my filter for what made sense and what was totally ridiculous was somehow off. I remember a time in my early-mid 20s when I was obsessed with trying to lose weight and as a result ate only very specific -dare I say sugar-free, non-fat, fake crap- foods. The result was not only more pounds on the scale, but worse: tons of anxiety, irritability, sleep problems, and so forth. Sound familiar to anyone?
Our society and, I am sad to say this, us ladies in particular are so often obsessed with food to a point where it become destructive instead of nourishing. This racks complete hormonal havoc in our bodies and in our minds and it really separates us from who we truly want to be. How are you going to truly love yourself if you cannot nourish yourself without feeling guilty? (Tweet that here!) I believe that part of the solution is gaining adequate knowledge on how the body works and what we can eat that will support our happiness from the inside out.
That's why I am so excited to introduce you to Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN. Jess is the blogger behind Keeping It Real Food and is an incredible source of wisdom when it comes to food and our mood.
Good Mood Foods
by Jessica Cording
What we eat has a big effect on our mood. Ever notice how irritable you feel when you’re hungry? Or maybe you’re cranky and exhausted after a celebratory weekend of rich and sugary foods. Maybe you’re not really kidding when you say you feel depressed when you try to go raw-vegan every January.
When I was in my early twenties and trying to adhere to my then-boyfriend’s vegetarian lifestyle, I learned the hard way how much you need to plan to nourish your body on a plant-based diet. The summer I was 24, I was nursing a stress fracture, crying every day, and became convinced I was dying a slow, exhausting death. Turned out I was just deficient in vitamin B-12, a nutrient found primarily in animal protein. A supplement solved the problem, but I ended up deciding that vegetarianism on someone else’s terms was not for me.
As a dietitian, I focus a lot on the connection between food and mood. I’ve had many clients express a desire to get off their antidepressant and antianxiety medications in favor of food and other lifestyle changes. Another question I frequently receive is what to eat to beat stress. Though it’s important to speak with a doctor about stopping or changing a medication, food can definitely play a supportive role.
Certain foods enhance production and processing of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is associated with mood. Because serotonin is derived from tryptophan, it’s important to get enough of this amino acid. The B-vitamins are also key—especially vitamin B-6, which affects the rate at which tryptophan is converted to serotonin, and B-12, which impacts our nervous system function.
In general, a balanced diet containing foods from all the food groups is a good bet, as various vitamin and mineral deficiencies have been tied to depression, as has low intake of dietary fat (especially omega-3’s) and cholesterol. Eating balanced meals and snacks throughout the day can keep blood sugar and energy levels stable, which helps us feel more emotionally balanced.
Here are some good-mood foods to keep in the rotation:
- Chicken, Turkey, and Beef—Meat and poultry are rich sources of protein, tryptophan, and vitamin B-12. Choose organic and/or grass-fed varieties to avoid harmful chemicals.
- Fish and seafood—Aside from providing protein, tryptophan, and vitamin B-12, fatty fish are potent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Don’t like fish? Try a fish-oil supplement.
- Eggs—Another great source of vitamin B-12 and omega 3’s, as well as cholesterol. Egg yolks are also rich choline, the backbone to neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is essential for nervous system function.
- Banana—High in tryptophan and vitamin B-6, not to mention potassium, which reduces blood pressure—great for stressed out times when your heart’s racing.
- Avocado—High in vitamin B-6, avocado is also a great source of healthy fats. It also happens to be even richer in potassium than bananas.
- Flax—High in both tryptophan and omega-3’s, try ground flax meal in oats or yogurt, or flax oil drizzled over salad.
- Chia seeds—Also high in omega-3s. Blend into smoothies, sprinkle over stir-fry, or cook into oatmeal.
- Whole Grains— great source of B-vitamins, whole grains also have more tryptophan than other, more refined sources of carbohydrates.
- Yogurt—probiotics help fight the good fight in the GI tract, where most serotonin is produced. A healthy gut is a happy gut—and a happier you.
- Dark Chocolate—Shown to increase serotonin levels in the brain.
In the comments below, I'd love to hear from you: What action are you going to take to support your mood through food? Which of the foods above do you want to start incorporating into your diet on a regular basis? Let us know below :)
Caroline & Jessica
About Jessica: Jessica is a registered dietitian and writer based in NYC. One of her favorite things about working in nutrition is that it allows her to use both sides of her brain to make connections between the mind and body using diet as a link. Jessica feels that eating well doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful, and her goal is to help people prove it to themselves. Though her training has been very clinical, she has a deep interest in complementary and alternative therapies and maintains a healthy respect for the as-yet-unproved. In her spare time, you can usually find her nerding out on food and nutrition blogs—that is, if she’s not out on a walk in the park, enjoying a yoga class, or playing mad scientist in the kitchen. She has written for Food and Nutrition Magazine, Organic Wine Journal, and FYI Living, among other publications. She blogs at Keeping It Real Food.