I recently talked to the Limekilns, Charleston and Pattiesmuir Scottish Women’s Institute on food and mood. Lots of questions came up and what was apparent was gut health is strongly linked to what people can and cannot eat as you age. So while the following article focuses on the raw materials for brain function, it is important not to ignore the digestive system. As this is such a big topic I will cover it soon in another blog. These ladies had a great knowledge of food and it was a pleasure to talk to such a long established group. It was lovely to see a group get together once a month and socialise ranging from young to old.
Food and Mood
Food will be high in nutritional value or low or even contain ingredients that will have a negative impact on mood. Symptoms of mood imbalances are: depression, low mood, low energy, anxiety, insommnia and poor memory and concentration.
A typical adult has 100 billion brain cells. Every thought, action and emotion involves communication between these cells that are triggered by special chemicals called neurotransmitters. Rather like texting, neurotransmitters are sending messages from one cell to another to tell you how to feel, move, learn, remember, get up in the morning, sleep and think. An imbalance or dysfunction in neurotransmitters can impact your mood.
What are these Neurotransmitters?
- Serotonin keeps us happy and improves our mood
- Dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline are our get up and go chemicals and also give us that good feeling when we experience something we enjoy such as dancing, being in love, seeing your children laugh and succeeding.
- GABA helps us relax and keeping us cool, calm and collected.
- Acetylcholine keeps us sharp and improves memory and mental alertness
- Endorphins – give us a sense of euphoria, especially after exercise or something you enjoy.
Protein is very powerful nutrient when looking at mood health. After we eat a protein rich food like an egg the digestive system breaks it up into amino acids, it then links up into a new sequence and forms a neurotransmitter.
Good protein sources are: chicken, fish, beans, pulses, peas, avocados, nuts and seeds, red meat, game meat, plain natural yoghurt, cheese, quinoa, eggs and even green leafy veg such as broccoli and cauliflower.
What fats are good for you?
Oily fish – organic or wild salmon, trout, mackerel, anchovies and sardines; nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado’s and butter. Grass fed meat is also another good source of omega 3 fats. If you are vegetarian flaxseeds and walnuts are a good source of omega 3.
Fat is still linked to diseases such as obesity and cardiovascular health and the wrong fats can impact mood. Avoid inflammatory fats – trans, hydrogenated – includes margarines and frying/heating vegetable and seed oils at high temps as they can be damaging to the nerve cells and brain function.
Carbohydrate is the brain’s main source of fuel but it has to be finely balanced and be in the right form. White refined, processed sugars such as white sugar, rice and flour impact blood sugar levels dramatically affecting mood. If you have too much you feel wired if have too little you feel faint, tired and irritable. Try to eat complex carbohydrates and eat protein and fat with each meal to avoid problems with blood sugar.
Vitamins and Minerals needed for mood
|Vitamins and Minerals||Deficiency signs||Sources|
|B vitamins||Poor concentration, memory loss, low mood and energy||Wholegrains – brown rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat. Vegetables, meat, fish nuts, seeds and dairy|
|Choline||Memory loss and anxiety||Eggs and fish
|Vitamin D||Memory and cognitive thinking||Sunshine, salmon, dairy and eggs|
|Zinc||Depression, anxiety, hyperactivity
|Pumpkin seeds, meat, fish, seafood, seaweed, nuts and seeds|
|Iron||Foggy thinking, fatigue and low mood||Red meat (grass fed), fish and eggs. Vegetarian sources: beans, pulses, dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, avocado, seeds and dried apricots. Eat these foods with foods rich in Vitamin C to increase the absorption – salads, broccoli, parsley, and fruit
|Magnesium||Muscle cramps, irritable, sleep problems, anxiety||Swiss chard, spinach, pumpkin seeds, butternut squash, dark chocolate and green leafy vegetables: broccoli, kale and cauliflower. Epsom salt baths are another effective way of increasing magnesium levels. Try to have a bath twice a week with 2 cups of Epsom Salts, lie for 20 minutes, pat yourself dry for maximum transdermal absorption
|Calcium||Sleep problems, irritable and anxiety||Dairy, sesame seeds, humus and green leafy vegetables
Antioxidants for protection
Rainbow coloured fruit and vegetables are needed for protection of brain cells.
Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, inflammation may be a reason for poor brain function. Incorporate as much colour on your plate as you can – using fruit, vegetables, spices and herbs. Blueberries and dark coloured fruits have been found to help with memory and mood. Bananas are a good source of dopamine. Green tea contains l-theanine, which may have a calming effect on mood. Try drinking 1 cup a day.
What to avoid
Foods that may have a negative impact on brain health may be because they cause inflammation or they cause a reactive process similar to rusting – when this happens it is damaging to our cells and can cause a further inflammatory process.
- Burnt meat and fish – studies have shown that chemicals made by overcooking meat and fish are toxic to the body.
- Trans or hydrogenated fats – inflammatory to the body
- High consumption of dairy and or meat that has been farmed intensively – aim for organic and grass fed products – grass fed also contains higher amount of omega 3
- Processed foods – foods that contain additive and chemicals that you cannot pronounce
- Heavy metals – they can be associated with mood swings, aggressive behaviours, low concentration levels, apathy, disturbed sleep and impaired memory. Food that may help eliminate heavy metals from the body are: sulphur containing foods such as eggs, onion and garlic and foods containing pectin – apples, carrots and citrus fruits – a good tip is to put the rind of lemons and oranges on top of porridge, salads, curries, fish, deserts and chicken.
- Food intolerances and allergies notice any foods that disagree with you and pay attention then professional help from your GP or a Nutritional Therapist.
With the right diet food can have a remarkable effect on mood, eating good quality protein, complex carbohydrates and quality fats with lots of colour of the rainbow foods you will support your brain and in turn your mood.