7 lists in 7 days: 7 Mood Foods

salmon walnut salad

Here is a list of 7 foods to start experimenting with, followed by a discussion on how these foods can impact on our mood.

• Fish
• Leafy greens
• Nuts
• Whole eggs
• Legumes
• Unrefined grains
• Broccoli

Why these foods? Read on…

You’ve heard of neurotransmitters, right? Well to oversimplify what they are and how they work, I’m going to use the analogy of the postal service (try to avoid thinking about lost mail at this stage, please, or how terribly slow some mail services can be!).

Cast your mind back to the 80s (when I was growing up) when most of our important correspondence was sent via postal mail: bills (ok not enjoyable but a necessary evil), invitations to weddings, postcards from family visiting faraway places, perhaps even a birthday present, Christmas cards, and maybe even a hand-written letter from your penfriend from the other side of the world. Let’s pretend that the postman could also take mail from you that you wanted to be delivered. In this respect, the postman is the conduit between you sending and receiving messages.

Neurotransmitters (NTs for short) act like this postman, in that they are chemical messengers that act as conduits between different brain cells, sending and receiving messages. We know that many things could potentially go wrong to disrupt the flow of mail to and from the postman (refer back to the start of this post – lost mail, delayed mail, receiving somebody else’s mail, moved house with no forwarding address) and NTs can experience similar problems with their communication to and from the brain (below or above the ‘normal healthy range’, not firing at the right time, not firing enough, not communicating with the correct part of the brain).

There are too many NTs to blog about here, but the focus of this post is on those that are manufactured in the brain directly from food components. These are:
• Serotonin
• Dopamine
• Norepinephrine
• Acetylcholine

The levels and activity of these NTs are sensitive to food intake, and changes in dietary patterns can have profound effects on behaviour, eating patterns, sleep, and energy level (Somer, 1995).

What does it do?
Serotonin is responsible for regulating anxiety, mood, sleep, appetite and sexuality.

Why should I care?
High serotonin levels increase feelings of calmness, improve sleep patterns, increase pain tolerance, and reduce cravings for food (Somer, 1995). Conversely, depleted or disrupted serotonin levels are associated with depression (Black Dog Institute, 2013) and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

How can I increase serotonin through food?
Serotonin is manufactured from the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in protein-rich foods (meats, dairy, eggs, and legumes), assisted by vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid (Turner, 2011). Let’s break this down a little…

Foods high in B6:
• Spinach,
• Capsicums (peppers),
• Garlic,
• Bananas,
• Celery

Foods high in B12:
• Meats
• Dairy
• Eggs

Foods high in Folate:
• Leafy greens
• Fruits
• Legumes

But hold up, before running to the nearest steak-house, read this:
Ironically, eating a protein-rich meal lowers brain tryptophan and serotonin levels, while eating a carbohydrate-rich meal has the opposite effect (Turner, 2011)! So much for those low-carb diets out there.

The reason this happens is that tryptophan competes with other amino acids (faster postmen who can carry more mail in their rucksacks) for entry into the brain after a protein-rich meal, which means serotonin levels don’t rise significantly.

In contrast, a carbohydrate-rich meal triggers insulin release, allowing tryptophan a free ride into the brain, resulting in a serotonin rise. Weeeeeeee! Let’s go make some sweet potato chips!

Take-away message: feed the postman a balanced meal with lots of B6 and folate foods.

What does it do?
Influences body movement and is also believed to be involved in motivation, reward, reinforcement, addictive behaviours and psychotic symptoms.

Why should I care?
Dopamine helps us to feel rewarded (reinforced) when engaging in pleasurable activities, which motivates us to continue those activities (you can probably see here how this is the NT involved in addictive behaviours…too much of a good thing can actually be deleterious to your health).

Very high levels of dopamine can also cause us to be over excited/energized (such as with Bipolar Disorder), then suspicious and paranoid, then finally hyperstimulated by our environment (e.g. I see a group of people across the road from me, walking and chatting amongst themselves, but I think they are talking about me and plotting to set fire to my house).

Conversely, very low levels of dopamine are associated with movement disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Conversely,

What foods trigger dopamine release?
Dopamine (and norepinephrine) is manufactured from the amino acid tyrosine, assisted by folic acid, magnesium, and vitamin B12. As we have already covered foods in the folic acid and vitamin B12 categories, here are some examples of foods high in magnesium:
• Leafy greens
• Whole unrefined grains such as quinoa and millet
• Nuts and seeds
• Legumes

The good news for meat eaters…

Like tryptophan, tyrosine is abundant in protein-rich foods, but unlike tryptophan, tyrosine levels rise after eating a protein-rich meal. This promotes levels of dopamine and norepinephrine to rise, which has the effect of increasing alertness and mental energy (Somer, 1995).

What does it do?
Influences sleep and alertness, and as it functions in a similar way to adrenaline, it is believed to be related to the stress response (fight or flight).

Why should I care?
Low levels of norepinephrine are associated with a loss of alertness, poor memory, and depression. Conversely, high levels of norepinephrine are associated with almost all anxiety disorders, and create a state of arousal that feels uncomfortable (jumpiness, racing heart, profuse sweating, and a feeling of dread) and in extreme cases can result in panic attacks.

What foods trigger norepinephrine release?
Refer to the information above for Dopamine.

What does it do?
This NT is is believed to be associated with muscle activation, learning, and memory.

Why should I care?
Acetylcholine is important in memory and in general mental function. Lowered acetylcholine levels, common with aging, result in memory loss and reduced cognitive function (Somer, 1995), such as in Alzheimer’s type dementia.

What foods trigger acetylcholine release?
Acetylcholine is manufactured from the fat-like substance choline. Unlike amino acids, which must compete with all the other postmen for entry into the brain, choline is the sole posty in the region, and has no competitors.

Foods high in choline:
• Offal such as liver
• Whole eggs
• Meat
• Fish
• Organic peanut butter
• Brussels sprouts
• Broccoli

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog post, where I share with you 7 delicious recipes incorporating the 7 mood foods I highlighted at the start of today’s post! All free from sugar, gluten and dairy.

*Disclaimer –I am a qualified Psychologist studying to become a Health Coach. For any specific dietary advice please consult your own health practitioner and remember to be mindful of the choices you make, because one person’s food is another person’s poison.*

About psyched4success

"Psyched4Success" encapsulates the 4 foundations for Successful living: Heart - Emotions and Relationships Mind - Psychology and Thinking Body - Physical Health, Movement and Nutrition Spirit - Personal Essence, Values, Goals and Motivation I am a Psychologist with a passion for Holistic Health and Wellness, determined to inspire personal transformation in these foundational areas for success. When i am not working as a Psychologist, Corporate Trainer, and University Tutor, i love spending countless hours in the kitchen creating nutritious organic meals, inspired by a whole foods philosophy, free of gluten, sugar and dairy. I intend to share my creations with you here, as well as my journey from adrenal fatigue to health through my own personal, health, nutrition and lifestyle transformations. I am based in Sydney, Australia, but am an intrepid soul who sets an intention to visit a new destination each year.
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3 Responses to 7 lists in 7 days: 7 Mood Foods

  1. Great deal of information.. Really enjoyed what you had to offer.. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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