Mood Enhancing Foods
When you’re feeling down, it can be tempting to turn to food to lift your spirits. However, the sugary, high calorie treats that many people resort to having negative consequences of their own.
I shared some recipes on Instagram and Facebook which are all in the recipe section of my website. So, this week why not try some healthy mood-enhancing foods to lift your spirits.
Let’s talk about some of these foods and why they have positive effects on our moods.
Omega 3 is a group of essential fats you must obtain through your diet because your body can’t produce them on its own.
Fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel are rich in two types of omega-3s — docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) — that are linked to lower levels of depression
If you don’t eat fish you can get omega 3 in products such as Flaxseed, chia seed, seaweed, kidney beans to name but a few.
I have fish twice a week for dinner and one of those days is always a fish that is high in Omega 3. You can always just have some smoked salmon in your fridge and add it to your lunch or salad. Also, another good one is mackerel pate, see my recipe here.
On top of improving your mood, Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids can improve your cardiovascular health. Most of this research involves EPA + DHA, but ALA can also help improve your health. Benefits of including omega-3 fatty acids in your diet include:
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Reduced risk of blood clots because omega-3 fatty acids help prevent blood platelets from clumping together.
- Keeping the lining of the arteries smooth and free of damage that can lead to thick, hard arteries. This helps keep plaque from forming in the arteries.
- Lowering triglyceride levels by slowing the rate they form in the liver. High levels of triglycerides in the blood increase the risk of heart disease.
- Less inflammation. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is thought to involve your body’s inflammatory response. Omega-3 fatty acids slow the production of substances that are released during the inflammatory response.
Omega-3 fatty acids may also:
- Raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL/“good” cholesterol).
- Lower blood pressure. People who eat fish tend to have a lower blood pressure than those who don’t.
- Fatty fish like salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may lower your risk of depression.
Chocolate is rich in many mood-boosting compounds and who doesn’t enjoy a little bit of chocolate! Its sugar will automatically improve mood since it’s a quick source of fuel for your brain
Furthermore, it may release a cascade of feel-good compounds, such as caffeine, theobromine, and N-acylethanolamine — a substance chemically similar to cannabinoids that have been linked to improved mood
It is high in health-promoting flavonoids, which have been shown to increase blood flow to your brain, reduce inflammation, and boost brain health, all of which may support mood regulation
Now, before you grab a bar of chocolate or a slice of chocolate cake, it’s important to understand that not all forms of chocolate contain high levels of flavanols.
Cocoa naturally has a very strong, pungent taste, which comes from flavanols. When cocoa is processed into your favourite chocolate products, it goes through several steps to reduce this taste. The more chocolate is processed (through things like fermentation, alkalizing, roasting, etc.), the more flavanols are lost.
Most commercial chocolates are highly processed. Although it was once believed that dark chocolate contained the highest levels of flavanols, recent research indicates that, depending on how the dark chocolate was processed, this may not be true. The good news is that most major chocolate manufacturers are looking for ways to keep the flavanols in their processed chocolates. But for now, your best choices are likely dark chocolate over milk chocolate (especially milk chocolate that is loaded with other fats and sugars) and cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing (cocoa that is treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity).
Some people do not like the taste of dark chocolate so why not add it to other healthy recipes like my energy balls or my chocolate nutty dates. Both healthy options.
Fermented foods, which include kimchi, yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut, can improve gut health and mood.
Since my days at Ballymaloe Cookery School, I have made kombucha every week. I also make kefir drinks but for me, Kombucha has been the most favourite with my family.
The fermentation process allows live bacteria to thrive in foods that are then able to convert sugars into alcohol and acids
During this process, probiotics are created. These live microorganisms support the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut and may increase serotonin levels
It’s important to note that not all fermented foods are significant sources of probiotics, such as in the case of beer, some bread, and wine, due to cooking and filtering.
You have many bacteria in your body. In fact, you have more of them than you have cells. Most are good for you. The ones found in your gut not only help you digest foods but also work all over your body and can be good for your physical and mental health.
Up to 90% of your body’s serotonin is produced by your gut microbiome, or the collection of healthy bacteria in your gut so it is really important that you focus on the health of your gut.
In addition, the gut microbiome plays a role in brain health. Research is beginning to show a connection between healthy gut bacteria and lower rates of depression
Finally, In the gut microbiome, the “good” bacteria do more than just help with digestion. They help keep your “bad” bacteria in check. They multiply so often that the unhealthy kind doesn’t have space to grow. When you have a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, it’s called equilibrium.
Since up to 90% of your body’s serotonin is produced in your gut, a healthy gut will have a positive effect on your mood. If you have not started to add fermented foods to your diet then you should! You can buy some delicious fermented foods at your local health store that you can add to your daily diet.
Bananas are loaded with valuable micronutrients, especially potassium. Potassium is one of the most important electrolytes in the body, helping to regulate heart function as well as fluid balance – a key factor in regulating blood pressure. The effectiveness of potassium-rich foods such as bananas, in lowering blood pressure and protecting against heart disease and strokes is well accepted and bolstered by considerable scientific evidence.
They’re high in vitamin B6, which helps synthesize feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Furthermore, one large banana provides approx 16 grams of natural sugar and 3.5 grams of fibre
When paired with fibre, sugar is released slowly into your bloodstream, allowing for stable blood sugar levels and better mood control. Blood sugar levels that are too low may lead to irritability and mood swings
Finally, bananas, especially when still showing green on the peel, is an excellent source of prebiotics, a type of fibre that helps feed healthy bacteria in your gut. A robust gut microbiome is associated with lower rates of mood disorders.
You can always reach for a banana and eat as is but there are so many recipes that you can make that includes bananas, and no I’m not talking just about banana bread! I use bananas in smoothies or make banana pancakes or you can try my recipe baked bananas which are delicious and loved by all the family including toddlers!
Oats are a whole grain that can keep you in good spirits all morning. You can enjoy them in many forms, such as porridge, overnight oats, muesli, granola, oat bars etc
They’re an excellent source of fibre, which helps slow your digestion of carbs, allowing for a gradual release of sugar into the bloodstream to keep your energy levels stable.
In one study, those who ate 1.5–6 grams of fibre at breakfast reported better mood and energy levels. This was attributed to more stable blood sugar levels, which is important for controlling mood swings and irritability
Although other sources of whole grains can have this effect, oats may be especially advantageous, as they are loaded with important vitamins, minerals and antioxidant plant compounds. Half a cup (78 grams) of dry oats contains
- Manganese: 191% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 41% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 34% of the RDI
- Copper: 24% of the RDI
- Iron: 20% of the RDI
- Zinc: 20% of the RDI
- Folate: 11% of the RDI
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 39% of the RDI
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 10% of the RDI
Porridge recipes have come a long way over the years, I personally love mine cooked slowly in half coconut milk and half water and add berries, seeds, honey, peanut butter, different fruits etc. This makes breakfast a delicious meal!
There are many ways you can add oats to your daily food intake. There are too many recipes to just pick one for you today but I have plenty of ways on my recipe page to use oats and there are many more out there.
We have all heard that eating more fruits and vegetables have many positive effects on our bodies but did you know they are also linked to lower rates of depression
A diet rich in antioxidants can help manage inflammation associated with depression and other mood disorders
Berries pack a wide range of antioxidants and phenolic compounds, which play a key role in combatting oxidative stress — an imbalance of harmful compounds in your body
They are low in calories and extremely nutritious. In addition to being high in antioxidants, they also contain several vitamins and minerals.
Berries, especially strawberries, are high in vitamin C. In fact, 150 grams of strawberries provides a whopping 150% of the RDI for vitamin C.
With the exception of vitamin C, all berries are fairly similar in terms of their vitamin and mineral content.
On top of this studies suggest that the antioxidant in berries can protect skin by blocking the production of enzymes that break down collagen in sun-damaged skin. Collagen is a protein that is part of your skin’s structure. It allows your skin to stretch and remain firm. When collagen is damaged, your skin may sag and develop wrinkles.
Not only have they such good nutritional value but they are also delicious! Add them to your porridge, have them with yoghurt and honey, mix them into a smoothie or just on their own as a snack.
Nuts and seeds
These are a pantry staple of mine. I love sprinkling seeds on porridge, salads, yoghurt or just as a snack. Nuts are also fabulous but you should not overeat them as they are high in calories. I add them to recipes when baking or for pestos or a nice healthy stir fry. Nuts and seeds are high in plant-based proteins, healthy fats, and fibre.
Nuts are antioxidant powerhouses. Antioxidants, including the polyphenols in nuts, can combat oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals — unstable molecules that may cause cell damage and increase disease risk
Research shows that the antioxidants in walnuts and almonds can protect the delicate fats in your cells from being damaged by oxidation
Additionally, they provide tryptophan, an amino acid responsible for producing mood-boosting serotonin.
If you’ve ever travelled to the Mediterranean you will have noticed that nuts and seeds are a large component of Mediterranean diets, which may support a healthy brain. This diet promotes fresh, whole foods and limits your intake of processed items
Finally, certain nuts and seeds, such as Brazil nuts, almonds, and pine nuts, are good sources of zinc and selenium. Minerals, which are important for brain function.
Now I am a huge coffee lover, and Coffee is the world’s most popular drink, and it may make the world a bit happier, too. We all know how the effects of 1 cup of coffee can lift our mood and put a spring in our step!
The caffeine in coffee prevents a naturally occurring compound called adenosine from attaching to brain receptors that promote tiredness, therefore increasing alertness and attention
Moreover, it increases the release of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine
A study in 72 people found that both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee significantly improved mood compared with a placebo beverage, suggesting that coffee contains other compounds that influence mood
Researchers attributed this boost in attitude to various phenolic compounds, such as chlorogenic acid. Still, more research is needed
Caffeine is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about coffee. But coffee also contains antioxidants and other active substances that may reduce internal inflammation and protect against disease,” says Diane Vizthum, M.S., R.D., research nutritionist for Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
It’s true, you can have too much of a good thing. Excessive intake of caffeinated coffee can make you jittery and cause:
- Increased heart rate
- Raised blood pressure
- Trouble falling asleep
So how much coffee is the optimal amount to drink to get all the benefits, but avoid the negative side effects?
I can manage about 2 cups of black coffee a day and all before 3 pm or I do start getting some of the side effects but according to the Dietary Guidelines, it’s safe for most people to drink three to five cups of coffee a day with a maximum intake of 400 milligrams of caffeine.
But if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, the rules are different. Check with your obstetrician before adding caffeine to your diet.
Caffeine tolerance is different for everyone. You want to do what makes you feel good. You can still get some of the potential health benefits by drinking one cup of coffee a day, or even by drinking decaffeinated coffee. Also, remember that what you add to your coffee can make a difference in how healthy the beverage really is. If you are one to drink a latte a few times a day then that also has calorie effects on your daily diet so be careful of that.
Beans and Pulses
In addition to being high in fibre and plant-based protein, beans and Pulses are full of feel-good nutrients.
They’re an excellent source of B vitamins, which help improve mood by increasing levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), all of which are important for regulating mood
Furthermore, B vitamins play a key role in nerve signalling, which allows proper communication between nerve cells. Low levels of these vitamins, especially B12 and folate, have been linked to mood disorders, such as depression
Pulses include beans, lentils and peas. They’re, low-fat source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and count towards your recommended 5 daily portions of fruit and vegetables.
They are a great source of protein. This means they can be particularly important for people who don’t get protein by eating meat, fish or dairy products. But, pulses can also be a healthy choice for meat-eaters. You can add pulses to soups, casseroles and meat sauces to add extra texture and flavour.
Finally, they’re a good source of zinc, magnesium, selenium, and non-heme iron, which may likewise elevate your spirits
So there you go, some of the best foods you can have in your diet that lift your mood but also have other excellent nutritional benefits.
The next time you feel low in energy or mood try not to go for the rich processed sugary foods and opt for one of the above that have been shown to not only boost your mood but also your overall health.
*All information on this blog has been researched and taken from trusted sources.