How can food affect your mood?
Do you want to find out more about mood-boosting food? Feeling good in your body and mind requires balance across all aspects of your life, including your diet. There’s growing research showing that simple dietary changes can significantly improve your mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Other symptoms that can result from a poor diet include mood swings, irritability, insomnia and poor concentration, and these are all signs that the brain and body may not be receiving the nutrients it needs. In this sense, positive changes to your diet can help to improve your mood, give you more energy and help you think more clearly.
So, what’s the science behind food boosting your mood?
Moods and energy levels are influenced by neurotransmitters, and the consumption of certain foods can affect the levels of neurotransmitters made in the brain. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that are made from protein. Examples include serotonin, dopamine & acetylcholine.
According to the nutritionist Gabriela Peacock, serotonin is the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter needed for healthy moods, sleep and appetite control. Tryptophan is a specific amino acid that makes serotonin. Therefore, it is suggested that by consuming foods rich in tryptophan, you can influence levels of serotonin made in the brain, which helps to improve your overall mood.
We know what you’re thinking – “So, which mood-boosting foods should I include?”. The seven foods below have all been shown to help boost your mood, ease anxiety and alleviate symptoms of depression. Here’s our happy foods list:
1. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are naturally high in plant-based protein, mood-boosting magnesium, healthy fats and fibre. They are also rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which helps create serotonin, which has been linked to lowering the risk of depression. The best options include almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, as well as pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds. Other nuts such as brazil nuts, almonds and pine nuts provide a rich source of zinc and selenium, which has been found to be a natural mood booster. For example, studies have linked low selenium levels with poorer moods.
Get nutty with our range of organic and deliciously creamy nut milks.
Oats are an effective mood-booster thanks to their low glycemic index (GI), which means they slowly release energy into the bloodstream, keeping your blood sugar and mood more stable (versus quick dips, which leave you feeling more irritable). Additionally, oats are rich in the mood-boosting mineral selenium. Perfect for a nutritious breakfast or as a quick snack, here’s some of our go-to oat recipes:
3. Dark Chocolate
Yes, that’s right, chocolate makes you happy! Specifically, dark chocolate is rich in compounds such as phenylethylamine, which boosts endorphins, and anandamide, also known as the ‘bliss chemical’. Studies have shown that dark chocolate can improve cognitive performance, while its rich mineral content, including iron and magnesium, help to promote relaxation and a restful night’s sleep. Grab some chocolatey inspiration with these plant-powered recipes:
Mashing some avocado on your morning toast may seem simple, but this breakfast is a winner for boosting your mood. Avocados are packed with nutrients like vitamin B6, fibre, vitamin E and vitamin C that help to boost your energy levels and fight fatigue. They are also rich in healthy omega-3 fats to support your brain health and low in sugar to keep your blood sugar and mood stable. This black rice, creamy avocado and basil salad and creamy avocado pasta are two of our easy weekday staples.
Rich in minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron, figs are our secret weapon to a goodnight’s sleep and all-around better mood. You can enjoy them on their own or use them to complement a range of dishes – they work very well as a salad topper for a pop of colour and added natural sweetness!
It’s true, you can eat your way to happiness with the humble chickpea as they are brimming with the amino acid tryptophan as well as folate and vitamin B6. As mentioned earlier, tryptophan is converted in the body into serotonin, which is a brain chemical that boosts your mood and promotes relaxation. Hummus is a delicious way to enjoy the benefits of chickpeas and super easy to make at home. Another of our favourite chickpea recipes includes Sweet Potato, Coconut and Chickpea Curry as it’s perfect for all the family, plus it can be cooked in bulk and frozen for quick weekday meals.
Bananas are the best on-the-go happy food because they are rich in tryptophan (the precursor to mood-boosting serotonin), as well as potassium and vitamin B6, which have been shown to lift moods and reduce the risk of depression. Vitamin B6 is also needed to produce serotonin, which helps to enhance your mood and elevate your confidence. Enjoy them on their own as a quick snack or freeze and blend into smoothies to thicken and add natural sweetness. Here’s some of our top mood-boosting banana smoothie recipes:
Other Lifestyle Tips To Boost Your Mood
In addition to snacking on the above mood-boosting foods, make sure you are getting enough vitamin D and exercising regularly. They are two of the most important lifestyle hacks for lifting your mood.
1. Optimise Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, is produced naturally when our skin is directly exposed to sunlight. A growing body of research links vitamin D with a better mood and lower risk of depression and anxiety. Vitamin D is also known to help support those with SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
Between late March/early April to the end of September in the UK, most people achieve their recommended daily intake of vitamin D from sunlight alone. During the winter months, however, the sunlight in the UK is not adequate for our skin to be able to make vitamin D. This is why taking a quality supplement or consuming vitamin-D rich foods is essential to maintain optimal levels of the vitamin.
2. Engage In Regular Exercise
Exercise is another way to boost energy and mood, and even a 15min walk can be energising. Studies show that regular exercise may help ease anxiety and depression and trigger other changes in your body that give you more energy all day long. Take a walk or yoga break or short-guided meditation.
3. Practice Mindful Eating
Slowing down and paying attention to the moment-to-moment experience of eating – the texture and tastes of each mouthful and how different foods affect your energy and mood – can increase our overall satisfaction and help us to make food choices that will be nourishing to the body.
Emily Mitchell, from non-profit mindfulness training hub, The Mindfulness Project explains:
“Mindful eating is about tuning in and paying attention to our eating experiences, with respect and love for the body as a starting point. When we eat mindfully, we tune into our senses to absorb the full eating experience, notice how food interacts with the body and pay attention to the cues our bodies give us.
Mindful Eating encourages us to let go of the idea of “good” and “bad” foods, choosing to give ourselves what we need, by developing trust towards our body’s signals. It is a self-nurturing process as opposed to trying to control our diet, which can result in self-criticism and negative patterns.”