Mood can be affected by a number of factors such as stress, physical activity, sleep levels and sunlight. Food is also important. What we eat can affect how we feel. Some foods can help to boost our mood by supporting hormones and brain function. So here are my top recommendations for food mood boosters.
Salmon, along with other oily fish such as trout and tuna, are fantastic sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s fall into the category of ‘healthy fats’ and are important for brain structure and function. There is some evidence that eating more fish means you are less likely to suffer from depression.1
Try to aim for 2 portions of oily fish a week. Unfortunately, tinned tuna doesn’t count as the omega 3 is removed during the canning process. But tinned mackerel and sardines are good to go and make a great, relatively cheap addition to a lunch-time salad.
Click here for a simple and tasty salmon recipe.
Almonds can help us in our mood raising mission by providing a rich source of magnesium. Now this mineral has a number of functions. It’s involved in over 300 biochemical processes in the body. Critically, it contributes to muscle and brain relaxation, as well as being involved in sleep regulation. A recent study showed that low dietary magnesium was associated with the development of depression.2
Around 13% of UK adults have a very low intake of magnesium.3 On top of that, food processing and intensive farming both act to deplete the amount of magnesium in our food. What’s more, if you get stressed, this uses up your body’s magnesium.
So these are all good reasons to top up your daily magnesium intake with a handful of almonds! Raw almonds are best, as these are unprocessed, so you could try adding them to your breakfast porridge or a lunch-time salad.
So why is turkey included here? Well, it’s actually a great source of the amino acid, tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is thought to be involved in happier moods. As a bonus, tryptophan also helps with sleep as it’s a precursor to the sleep-regulating hormone, melatonin. Stress can lead to the breakdown of tryptophan meaning the body will then have has less serotonin and less melatonin. Turkey is a good addition to stir fries or you could simply go for a turkey sandwich at lunch.
No doubt you’re aware of all the fuss about fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir and apple cider vinegar. These foods all add lots of ‘good’ bacteria to your diet and help to increase the diversity of your microbiota – the tens of trillions of microbes that live in your gut.
A healthy microbiota is good for your gut in lots of ways that I’ll cover in a future blog. But importantly, it’s also great news for your mood. In recent years it’s been discovered that there is a gut-brain axis, in other words your gut and brain communicate with each other via the nervous system. As a result your gut microbiota can influence your emotional health.
Research is at an early stage in terms of identifying which specific microbes are most beneficial for mood. However, in the meantime, by eating fermented food you’ll be increasing the diversity of your microbiota, which can only be good news for your mood.
I use apple cider vinegar to make a salad dressing with olive oil. Sauerkraut is easy to add to a ploughman’s lunch and you can include kefir in smoothies.
Do make sure that your fermented foods are fresh and not pasteurised to ensure that the bacteria are still living!
Black eyed beans are one of the richest food sources of folic acid (also know as folate and vitamin B9).
Folic acid is needed for DNA synthesis and repair, as well as cell division and growth (which is why it’s so important during pregnancy).
We’re interested in folic acid in terms of mood as it’s been shown that serotonin levels increase with food rich in folic acid. And what’s more, lower intake of folic acid has been linked with an increased likelihood of depression.4
Easy ways to increase your daily folic acid intake could include adding a handful of cooked black eyed beans to salads or to a pasta sauce.
1. McNamara, RK. (2016) Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Etiology, Treatment, and Prevention of Depression: Current Status and Future Directions. J Nutr Intermed Metab, 5: 96–106.
2. Yary, T. (2016) Dietary magnesium intake and the incidence of depression: A 20-year follow-up study. Journal of affective Disorders 193: 94-98.
3. National Diet and Nutrition Survey. (2018) Results from Years 7 and 8 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2014/2015 to 2015/2016). Data Tables, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/699242/NDNS_yr_7_to_8_statistics.xlsx.
4. Tolmunen, T et al. (2003) Dietary folate and depressive symptoms are associated in middle aged Finnish men. The Journal of Nutrition 133 (10): 3233-3236.