Do you wake up on an installment plan? Do you really not surface until you have another coffee break? Are you out-of-sorts? Downright grumpy? You can improve your mood by changing the foods you eat. How does this work?
Plant Foods to the Rescue!
Enjoy a plant-based diet, including a wide variety of non-starchy vegetables, whole fruits, nuts, and whole grains. Additionally, complex carbs are loaded with fiber that enables your blood sugar to stay within normal limits. It is fine to have a potato or corn; just remember ½ cup of starchy food comprises a serving. When combined with a variety of foods, veggies, legumes, and healthy fats, even a serving of starch at a meal, can help to satisfy endorphins and/or serotonin needs.1 Legumes are great because they not only provide carbohydrates, but protein, which helps us to keep alert and avoid blood sugar crashes. Low carbohydrate diets may reduce the brain’s ability to make serotonin. Without this neurotransmitter, a positive outlook, and self-control are hard to achieve. A balanced, plant-based, whole food diet does wonders for the mood!
Proteins provide amino acids that make brain chemicals that help you to think. Eating excessive protein, however, can reduce your brain’s ability to make serotonin. Legumes, whole grains, and nuts are good sources of cholesterol free protein. An optimally functioning front brain is essential for judgment, impulse control, and willpower. Eating meat depresses the electrical activity in the front brain.2
Then, too, when mixtures of animal protein and fats (for example, from a pizza) enter the stomach, they can form toxins (biogenic amines). One such example is the conversion of tyrosine to tyramine. Tyramine changes the way the brain responds to a brain chemical known as norepinephrine. Tyramine acts upon the nervous system so that it becomes overstimulated and develops a heightened sensitivity to stress. Irritability results.3
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
The typical Western diet, high in fat and sugar/high fructose corn syrup promotes inflammation inside the brain and elsewhere in the body. Depression has been linked to inflammation. Additionally, if this diet is consumed frequently, the ability to think and remember gradually deteriorates and can contribute to frustration.
Not only do the myriads of bacteria in the gut help the body to digest food and stimulate the immune system, they also impact your mood. The Western diet discourages the proliferation of beneficial gut bacteria that make anti-inflammatory compounds. This diet also increases the population of unfriendly gut microbes which produce inflammatory compounds that fuel chronic inflammatory diseases. A whole food, plant-based diet improves the composition of gut bacteria so as to favor the proliferation of beneficial gut microbes and reduce the risk for inflammation. Be sure to include liberal servings of raw foods as they particularly improve the composition of the gut micro-flora.
Sugar Deteriorates Mood
Go easy on the sugar and never eat it on an empty stomach. The rapid rise and fall of blood sugar decreases the ability of the brain to focus. Sugar is also bad news for individuals who suffer from chronic pain. Why? Because sugar reduces one’s threshold to pain so that he/she experiences pain sooner.4 It is true that sugar temporarily increases pleasure-linked endorphins in the brain, but walking will do that much more safely and provide cardiovascular benefits as well. Overeating fat and/or sugar can impair various memory functions and decrease cognitive flexibility needed to solve problems!
Caffeine Affects Mood
Caffeine is not your friend because it initially acts as a stimulant. Then as a depressant. Studies show that caffeine reduces the threshold for irritability and anger.5 Caffeine magnifies the effect of stress on the body. Long-term use of caffeine lowers the serotonin level in the brain and interferes with metabolism of G.A.B.A., a brain chemical that helps us to keep calm and focused under stress. Reduce caffeine consumption gradually over two weeks so as to eventually eliminate it.
Check For Nutritional Adequacy
Vegans and vegetarians should have their vitamin B-12 level checked. As we age, some of us will lose the ability to absorb this vitamin. Even low normal levels of this vitamin can produce a host of mental problems. If one does not eat greens, he might develop a folic acid deficiency, which impacts the mood negatively. Deficiency in vitamin D can also contribute to depression. Vitamin D supplementation may help ease away the wintertime blues.6
An inadequate intake of omega-3 fats promotes depression. Flaxseed, chia, walnuts, and spinach are good sources of this fatty acid. While solid animal fats and hydrogenated vegetable fats encourage inflammation inside the brain, omega-3 fats protect it. Consumption of dietary trans fatty acids is associated with irritability, impatience, and aggression. Monounsaturated fats from olives, avocados, and nuts also help to protect the brain. If you protect your brain, not only will you be more pleasant and easier to work with now, but also in your elderly years.
Diet is only one link in the chain of health, but an important one. Persistent mood problems may indicate some type of hormonal imbalance or mental illness. So consult with your doctor!
- Baldwin, Bernell E., “Lifestyle and Brain Physiology”, Wildwood Lifestyle Center, 2005.
- Somer E, Food and Mood, Henry Hold Reference Books, New York, 1995
- Baldwin, B.E., Griffin, Vikki, Kissinger, Evelyn, Food for Thought 2nd edition, Lifestyle Matters, pg 108
- Baldwin, Bernell E., “Use and Abuse of the Front Brain”, Wildwood Lifestyle Center, 2005
- Gupta, B.S. (editor) and Gupta, Uma, Caffeine and Behavior: Current Views and Research Trends,CRC Press.
- Gloth, F.M., Vitamin D vs. broad spectrum phototherapy in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. J Nutr Health Aging. 1999;3(1):5-7.