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Food and Mood: Different Ways Your Diet Effects How You Feel

Food and Mood: Different Ways Your Diet Effects How You Feel

What determines your mood? What makes you feel irritable, sulky, or upbeat? Is it the events in your life? When someone says something mean to you or when you can’t find your keys. Is it the neurotransmitters in your brain? Your genes? Or perhaps the food in your gut? 

The human body can be likened to a computer system. Just as a computer system requires several components to function correctly, so also does the human body. Several organs and chemicals work together to keep our body functioning in optimum health. 

Our mental health is affected by numerous factors. These factors include our genetic makeup, social and psychological stresses, neurotransmitter abnormalities, and dietary patterns. 

The food we eat plays a significant role in our mental health. As a matter of fact, some foods can keep us happy, sad or angry. This is so because when food is digested, certain chemicals are produced that influences the way the body functions (Ottley, 2000). 

In this article, I will discuss the best food to eat, which food to avoid, and what happens from not eating. 

Foods That Can Affect Your Mood

Benjamin

I awaken in a dark bedroom to the sound of my alarm clock. After staring at the dusty ceiling for a few seconds, I drag my hand across the bed and slam it into the alarm. Outside, I can hear the birds singing. A shabby table across the room has my ringing phone; I know it’s my dictator manager. I roll into a ball and close my eyes. When things that typically get me enthusiastic lose their “oomph,” I have to drag myself out of bed. 

We have all experienced a lack of enthusiasm. Those days that feel as if the will to push forward has been drained out of us, yet we usually recover within a few hours or the next day. There are, however, some people, like Benjamin, who have to deal with such lack of drive and motivation daily. Why is it so for Benjamin? What makes his case different? To answer you, there are two crucial brain chemicals I must first tell you about.

1. DOPAMINE

When you achieve a goal, do you feel excited about it? Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for this feeling of pleasure and satisfaction you get. It is also released when we fantasize about things (anticipating rewards). E.g., food, a friendly visit, or a movie (Watson, 2021). Dopamine improves our mood and motivates us to get out of bed and onto the treadmill. Just the thought of an improved physique triggers a release of dopamine. 

Some people naturally produce less dopamine. Such persons may find it challenging to be excited or motivated daily. They tend to experience the ‘meh’ moments we all feel much more frequently. If you are one of those people, a change in diet may be all you need. You should consider a diet rich in food capable of increasing your dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter synthesized from the amino acid L-tyrosine. Eating food rich in the amino acids tryptophan and L-tyrosine can increase the amount of dopamine available in our bodies. Good sources of L-tyrosine and tryptophan are protein-rich foods such as

During the day, protein-rich food will improve your mood and keep you motivated. 

During the day, protein-rich food will improve your mood and keep you motivated. 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter synthesized from the amino acid L-tyrosine. Eating food rich in the amino acids tryptophan and L-tyrosine can increase the amount of dopamine available in our bodies. Good sources of L-tyrosine and tryptophan are protein-rich foods such as

During the day, protein-rich food will improve your mood and keep you motivated. 

2. SEROTONIN

Sally

I do not suffer from a lack of desire and motivation. There is always something I am excited to do. I rarely have to drag myself out of bed. However, I often experience anxiety when I am overwhelmed with work and when I overthink a text I send. I don’t feel lethargy, but I do feel pressure. 

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that brings about happiness and optimism. When available in sufficient quantity, it calms you and makes you more comfortable and focused. Low levels of serotonin, on the other hand, are associated with depression, anxiety, and insomnia (Vandergriendt, 2020).

This, therefore, makes serotonin a vital chemical in managing depression. Most antidepressants, including Prozac, work primarily by manipulating the level and efficiency of serotonin. Though beneficial to some extent, terrible side effects are associated with this kind of intervention.

When you stop taking such medications

Low moods can manifest in two ways

  1. Lethargy and fatigue
  2. Anxiety and frustration

In the last section, we explained that lack of energy (lethargy), motivation, or enthusiasm can be improved by maintaining a food diet capable of increasing our dopamine levels. However, while an increase in dopamine levels may favor mood, a dopamine system imbalance can intensify bad moods and induce depression (Sherrell, 2022). 

Unless you are clinically depressed, it is not really necessary to start taking antidepressants. Instead, you should adjust your diets to incorporate foods that are capable of increasing serotonin levels. 

Naturally, foods rich in carbohydrates tend to release more serotonin than those low in carbohydrates. That is why you may have noticed you feel a little groggy when you are full. Personally, I eat a protein-rich, low-fat, zero-carb meal at lunch to stay alert because dopamine production is increased by protein-rich meals. At supper, I eat a complex carb, low protein meal because high carbohydrate levels promote serotonin release, making me feel sated and sleepy. Do you see how I am able to manipulate my diet to maintain stable mental health?

Fish Containing Omega-3 Fatty Acid

I believe you must have heard of Omega 3 fatty acids. Some years ago, everyone went crazy for this fish oil when a report revealed that Eskimos who ate cold-water fish had lower instances of heart disease. This prompted several research, which in the end, confirmed the report to be true. It was discovered that a regular intake of Omega 3 actually lowered the likelihood that you will drop dead because of a heart attack.

Later, research found a link between depression and low blood levels of Omega-3. Macnamara and Strawn (2013) did a study that confirmed lower levels of Omega-3 in patients diagnosed with major depression and bipolar disorders. 

Depression is less common in countries where people eat a lot of fish. Many observational studies report that people who eat fish two or more times a week are less likely to suffer from depression, heart attacks, and strokes than those who eat fish infrequently or not at all. Omega-3 not only has a significant effect on depression, but it also increases the effectiveness of antidepressant medication. 

Since we are talking about diet here, I will try to convince you to eat more fish than to go for the shiny capsules. Some studies have reported no benefit of fish oil capsules on heart disease and depression; instead, they report that people who eat fish avail the benefits. As a matter of fact, this high protein will boost your dopamine levels, while the Omega-3 will boost your serotonin levels. It is a win-win.

The question is whether the observed benefits often found among fish eaters are due solely to the oils in fish or to some other characteristics of seafood. This suggests we might well be better off eating fish instead of swallowing capsules. 

Probiotics Promoting Healthy Gut-Microbiome

Imagine the streets of New York or Istanbul on a weekday. The roads and sidewalks filled with cars and people going about their work, people of different races and ethnicities, classes, and stature. Now imagine this at a microscopic level, and you have an idea of what a gut microbiome looks like.

This tiny world is bustling with bacteria, viruses, and fungi coexisting peacefully with our bodies, helping us with certain chores. The gut microbiome has a substantially larger number of genes than its human host, allowing it to perform many metabolic functions that humans are incapable of. 

The gut microbiome can produce all essential and non-essential amino acids, various vitamins, and a plethora of neurotransmitters. Folks who like to get a little tipsy should thank their microbiome because it also helps break down alcoholic beverages decreasing their toxicity. Their breakdown of nondigestible carbohydrates is a significant source of energy.

Many intestinal bacteria, which are part of our microbiome, compete with harmful pathogens for space and resources in our gut. It is essentially like a war between weird-looking microscopic people. This is known as a competitive-exclusion effect. The irony of this entire system is that your gut microbiome doesn’t care about your well-being. It does what it does to survive. The health benefits are simply a side effect. Yes, you are simply a footnote in a bacteria’s life story. (Funny!)

The gut microbiome also affects our minds. Their activities secrete a series of neurotransmitters, including noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine. In animal science, researchers have found that tweaking an animal’s gut microbiome can make them bolder or more anxious. Such findings have created a buzz around probiotics, food, and supplements that contain healthy microbes. 

It is better to take probiotics through food than supplements for maximum benefits. Fermented foods such as yogurt, kombucha, and kimchi are great sources of probiotics.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting adds to our health. While in college, I would try to eat as frequently as possible. My rationale was that the body needs fuel. Within a year or two, my weight increased considerably; considering I have always had difficulty putting on weight, I welcomed the changes.

A few years ago, I heard about intermittent fasting online from George St. Pierre, one of the most outstanding Mixed Martial Artists of all time.

In an interview with GQ, George stated, 

“The fact that I’m fasting—my inflammation goes down, my water retention goes down, I sleep better. I don’t have those colitis symptoms, these cramps that I used to have. I feel so much better, and I’m much leaner. If I would have done the fasting program when I was younger, it would have been amazing. I just regret that—I wish I would have known that at the time. But I believe that if someone would have talked to me about fasting at the time, I would have never listened to them because I was in that culture of consuming products.” 

At the onset, I was skeptical. The lack of a good breakfast restaurant and my desire to conserve money were two reasons that aided my intermittent fasting adventure. After dinner at 9 p.m., I would miss breakfast and have lunch at about 1 p.m. the next day, nearly 16 hours later. After that, I was free to eat whenever I pleased until supper.

Initially, I felt hungry in the morning, which was distracting and negatively impacted my productivity. However, after a few weeks, I no longer felt hungry. I didn’t have any mental fog. My energy levels remained stable throughout the day. I felt fantastic. My weight had dropped dramatically a year later. I didn’t enjoy it, but I couldn’t quit fasting since I felt so light and concentrated.

Obesity is associated with depression and since fasting favors weight loss, it may be effective in improving depressive symptoms. Studies also suggest that intermittent fasting may switch glucose metabolism to ketone metabolism, inducing anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative and stress resistance effects.

FOODS THAT AFFECT YOUR MOOD NEGATIVELY

An interesting fact about mathematicians is that when they cannot solve a problem forward, they try to do it backward. Thinking about a problem from a different angle tends to reveal a novel solution. Similarly, while looking at the foods that can make us happy, it is essential to identify those that have the capability of making us sad and terrible. What not to eat is just as important as what to eat. For example, No matter how many salads, beans, and fish you eat, if you eat cheeseburgers, donuts, and croissants every day, you may still feel like crap. 

Pathology of Prediabetes

When stressed or depressed, trashy food is exactly what we crave, often labeled comfort food. We crave sugary and fatty foods such as donuts, pizza, and fried chicken, and they end up making us feel terrible. 

Junk foods high in sugar cause our insulin to spike, leading to a quick fall in blood sugar levels, making us feel tired and cranky. Apply the suggestions below for improved mood:

  • Eat protein-rich meals that stimulate dopamine synthesis during the day.
  • Eat carbohydrate-rich foods that promote serotonin release at night.
  • Eat omega-3-rich seafood such as salmon, sardines, and cod three to four times weekly.
  • Consume two servings of probiotics, such as yogurt, daily.
  • Avoid eating fast food and foods high in sugar and fat.
  • Consume a variety of seafood, lean poultry, and less red meat.
  • Consume a variety of fruits and green leafy vegetables.
  • Eat adequate fiber and include whole grains and legumes in your diet.
  • Eat natural meals instead of processed ones.
  • Eat less often, preferably only twice a day.

The truth of the matter is there is no single thing that can make you happy. To be happy, you need a constellation of things such as adequate sleep, proper nutrition, good genes, psychological tools, and social connection. Although it may seem complicated, the result is evident.

References

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ASIF KHAN

Asif Khan is a professional writer with a degree in pharmacy. He has written on a variety of topics including crypto, scientific self-help, and medicine.

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ASIF KHAN

Asif Khan is a professional writer with a degree in pharmacy. He has written on a variety of topics including crypto, scientific self-help, and medicine.

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