Foods Which Affect your Mood

Submitted on January 8, 2014
We all love chocolate and crave our morning cup of coffee, but do you know certain foods can actually enhance your mood?
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From time immemorial, people have believed that the food we eat can influence our sense of well being. Since medieval times, traditional healers have used plants to heal both the body and the mind. For example, chicory and lettuce have been used as tranquilizers; dates and elderberries have been used as mood enhancers.

Over the last decade, modern science has gained a better understanding of the effect that different foods have on our minds and bodies. Studies on animals and humans have demonstrated the effect that certain foods have on the brain chemistry and structure. Foods that have the greatest effect on neurotransmitters in the brain have the greatest effect on mood.

The theory is that nutrients in foods are precursors to neurotransmitters. The amount of precursors in the food we eat will determine the amount of neurotransmitters of a specific type that will be released.

This seems like a pretty straightforward explanation but in reality it is complicated by the fact that foods are made up of several different types of nutrients and the interactions between these nutrients will also play a role in the type and quantity of neurotransmitters released.

Here are a list of foods and the effect they have on your moods:

  • Proteins: Foods rich in proteins are broken down into amino acids. The amino acid tyrosine causes an increase in the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter known to increase levels of energy in your body and keep you alert. Foods with a high protein are fish, poultry, meat and eggs.
  • Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are great stress busters. Consuming carbohydrates results in the release of insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin helps to clear most amino acids from the blood, the exception being tryptophan. Tryptophan is converted into serotonin in the brain. This is a neurotransmitter that affects the body by reducing pain, decreasing appetite and producing a sense of calmness. In large quantities, serotonin can even induce sleep.

Studies show that dieters tend to get depressed after about two weeks of dieting and this is directly linked to lower levels of serotonin in the brain.

  • Caffeine: Caffeine is known to be a stimulant but despite all the negative connotations attached to this drink, it can be an effective anti-depressant. Mild cases of depression that do not require medical care have been known to respond well to caffeine. Long term studies have shown that having up to one or two cups of coffee a day doesn't have an adverse effect on your health.
  • Folic Acid: A part of the vitamin B family, folic acid can act as an important counter to depression. Folic acid deficiency causes serotonin levels to decrease, which results in depression. In cases of folic acid deficiency, a small dose of 200 micrograms was found to be sufficient to relieve depression. This amount can easily be obtained from one glass of orange juice.
  • Selenium: This trace element plays an important role in our moods. Selenium deficiency can result in anxiety, irritability and depression and may manifest as aggressive behavior. Selenium can be found in Brazil nuts, tuna, sunflower seeds, whole grain cereals and swordfish.
  • Chocolate: Chocolate can also be a powerful mood enhancer. It contains several psychoactive chemicals such as andamines, tyramine, phenylethylamine, theobromine and caffeine. These chemicals act in a manner similar to drugs such as cannabis and amphetamines, but their concentration in chocolate is extremely low.