"Let food be thy medicine..." Hippocrates
The Basic Principles Behind What to Eat for a Good Mood & Less Stress
- We need the neurotransmitter serotonin to insure a good mood, and to handle stress. According to Princeton neuroscientist Barry Jacobs, PhD, "Stress is the most important precipitator of depression! Something to think about!
- But our brains need tryptophan to produce serotonin. Tryptophan is found primarily in protein and the highest sources are: soy, eggs, turkey, yoghurt/milk, garbanzo beans and lentils. But, there's a CATCH! Tryptophan cannot cross the blood-brain barrier to produce serotonin without CARBOHYDRATES!
- To feel good, make sure your diet contains at least 40% of high quality carbs in the form of whole grains or fruits and veggies. Try to combine the carbs with a little protein (especially those high in tryptophan) at every meal or snack.
- Sugar is a simple carb that will raise your "feel-good" DOPAMINE levels quickly, but it also causes a sharp rise in insulin that will make you crash just as fast. Go for the slow-release whole grain carbs combined with a little protein to insure that your body will keep producing "good-mood serotonin" all day long.
What Are the Best Foods to Eat for a Good Mood?
- Oatmeal, soy milk and two scrambled eggs. Here's the perfect breakfast to get your day off to a good start. It's packed with 500 milligrams of tryptophan--the serotonin building block--& a whole grain to help the tryptophan cross the the blood-brain barrier while at the same time, slowing down the release of insulin into your bloodstream. Dr. Susan Kleiner recommends 1 whole egg a day because the lecithin in the yolk does wonders for the brain. If you are sensitive to dietary cholesterol (like I am) substitute egg whites, dairy or soy in order to get the tryptophan effect.
- Dark leafy greens--kale, chard, collards or spinach. Greens, beans & citrus are one of the best sources of folate--in addition to other B vitamins. Dr. Brent Bauer of the Mayo Clinic's Complementary and Integrative Health Medicine Program says that lack of the B vitamin folate may play a role in depression in some patients. Dr. James Gordon, of DC's Center for Mind Body Medicine also advises supplementation of the B vitamins to prevent depression and manage stress.
- Quinoa. Here's the perfect "good mood food" rolled into one. It's a complete high-quality protein--it's a whole grain carbohydrate--it's got fiber--and it's got just the right amount of high quality fat. It slows down the release of insulin and provides a nice slow-drip supply of the mood-lifting serotonin building blocks straight into your brain. It's delicious as a breakfast cereal or as a gourmet savory dinner. Check out my quinoa recipes here and here.
- Cold water fatty fish high in Omega-3s or an Omega-3 supplement. Omega-3s are one of the best things you can do for your brain and here's why. According to Dr. Susan Kleiner, "Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in the membranes surrounding brain cells play a role in every step of serotonin function, including boosting mood and keeping it elevated. Brain cells must be relatively fluid in order to put the serotonin to work sending messages efficiently and effectively. High concentrations of Omega-3s (a type of PUFA found in fatty fish) are critical to fluidity." If you're afraid of the contamination of PCBs or heavy metals sometimes found in fish, take a high quality fish oil supplement &/or add ground flax seed & walnuts to your diet. Be sure to take a look at the very short YouTube video link that you'll find in the Comments section of this post! It's from Susan Allport, an expert on Omega-3s. You'll see rats who had the benefit of Omega-3's & rats who didn't!
- Broccoli and blueberries. All the nutritional experts agree that these 2 are nutritional super foods loaded with antioxidants. When you are under stress your body produces free radicals, which promotes inflammation and takes a nasty toll on your body. Eating foods high in antioxidants will neutralize the effects of inflammation-induced stress. As an added bonus, animal studies have shown that blueberries boost the brain's cognitive funciton and may help prevent Alzheimers. Stay tuned.
- Vitamin D. Dr. Bruce Hollis, the world's Vitamin D maven, says D has been shown to prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and increases the flexibility of cell membranes which helps the brain's neurotransmitters to work better. Dr. Hollis advocates Vitamin D supplementation to be increased to a combined level of 2000 IUs a day (the current recommendation is just 400 IUs) and perhaps more for those living in Northern latitudes between October through April. Dr. Susan Kleiner advises her Seattle clients to get 15 minutes of sun exposure every day & increase their Vitamin D supplementation to improve their mood. It has worked for them.
What Should You Avoid to Insure a Good Mood & Less Stress?
- Ditch the Red Meat! Meat, corn oil, and some vegetable oils are high in Omega-6s, which are pro-inflammatory. You need to increase the Omega-3s and decrease the Omega-6s.
- Fried foods. Fried foods are high in saturated and trans fats. They are counter-productive to maintaining the "fluid brain cell membranes" necessary for serotonin production. For "brain fluidity" you'll need Omega-3s that are found primarily in fish. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is the vegetarian precursor to Omega-3 and it's found in soy, canola oil, flax seed and walnuts (and the oils of these foods).
- Junk food of all kinds. Stay away from white foods--white sugar, white flour, corn syrup, high fructose syrup, and refined foods. They lack the nutrients and fiber to keep you on an even keel. As Dr. James Gordon says, "You'll often experience a feeling of well-being from the sugar when levels are high, but when it's low you experience a letdown or fatigue."
- Alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is a DEPRESSANT. You might think it lifts your mood, but beware. Keep amounts low and never drink before sleep. It actually depletes the brain's supply of serotonin (the good mood chemical). Caffeine in small doses can give you a charge, but too much can make you jittery. Dr. Kleiner strongly suggests limiting coffee intake to the morning only. According to registered dietitian Molly Siple, caffeine can block GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid), the brain's "feel-good" neurotransmitter. GABA calms the mood, as well as the digestive tract. And coffee and donuts are a double whammy according to Siple. "Refined foods and caffeine tend to raise the blood glucose. The drop is route to depression."
It's All about Timing and Combining
- Don't get too hungry. Try to eat a meal or a snack every two or three hours. Even before bedtime, Dr. Kleiner advises a night cap of hot cocoa, made with nonfat or low fat milk or soy milk, and real (not Dutch processed) cocoa.
- Every meal or snack needs a balance of carbs, fats, and proteins. Never snack on only carbs, even fruits and veggies. Add some nuts, nut butter or low fat cheese.
- Proper timing & combining will lift your mood, help you manage stress, and give you a boost in energy. Really!
Do These Foods Work for Me?
- Yes! I'm almost always (knock on wood!) in a good mood. But I definitely notice that my mood sinks and my ability to handle stress drops when I fall off track; not eating every 3 hours; eating too many sweets; and having too much coffee.
- The coffee-GABA connection was news to me, and to be honest, I think it's about time to ditch my morning coffee habit. It really does make me too wired.
- I noticed that lentils, garbanzos and soy beans are high in tryptophan, and as beans they are both a carb & a protein. Sounds like another perfect food to me!
- Now that I understand how important the Omega-3's are to brain cell fluidity, I'm not going to skip my fish oil supplements, and I'm going to make a concerted effort to eat more fish.
- If you missed my My Top 12 Super Food Favorites, you can check it out here. Who knew that they were also the top foods for a good mood?
- I can't leave out the importance of regular exercise to maintaining a good mood & handling stress! Food-Exercise-Sleep! The mighty three.
Good Mood Books
- The Good Mood Diet. Dr. Susan Kleiner - I heard her speak before her book was released. Her advice is backed both by research and her experiences with pro-athletes, CEOs, and regular moms.
- SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life. Dr. Steven Pratt
- Unstuck. Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression. Dr. James Gordon
- SuperFoods Rx Diet. Dr. Wendy Bazilian & Dr. Steven Pratt
- The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Dr. Jonny Bowden
- The Serotonin Power Diet. Dr. Judith Wurtman (one of the first researchers to study food & mood) & Dr. Nina Frusztajer Marquis