The relation between food and mood swingsLakshmi
Feeling rather moody and cranky lately? Your hormones may be at play. But then again, it might just be what you are eating. Studies prove that there is a strong link between your food and mood. Dietary alterations can trigger chemical and physiological responses in the brain that have an effect on your behaviour, emotions and even your mood.
To proceed on what kind of effect a certain food has on you, you first need to understand how your body functions.
Matter of the gut
Go by your gut, they often say. It is a proven fact that there is a strong relation between your gut and your brain. They both are connected by the vagus nerve that goes from your brain stem down to your abdomen, the very route that is used by the gut bacteria to pass on information to your brain. This friendly bacteria (known as gut biome) plays a role in controlling mood and neurological function.
Whatever happens to your gut will, in turn, affect your brain. Studies back this too revealing that problems with greatly oscillating mood swings were often related to gastrointestinal symptoms.
Also, it is important to note that your gut makes the majority of your body’s serotonin, a significant neurotransmitter that regulates mood. Food that augments gut bacterial diversity is connected to a better mental health whereas an overdose of antibiotics that does the reverse can lead to depression. The gut also regulates inflammation. Consuming food that is gut-friendly can aid in safeguarding the brain by minimising the inflammation levels.
So what does inflammation have to do with mood?
The issue of inflammation
Inflammation, the body’s reaction to injury or stress too can get impacted by what you are eating. It can affect the functioning of the brain and alter the production of new neurons. Your food has the power to reduce or increase the inflammation, which in turn influences your mental state. Studies showed that when healthy volunteers were injected with an inflammatory substance, their mood significantly worsened making them feel depressed and isolated.
Blood sugar and mood
Serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters that control mood is run on sugar. It influences the state you are in, be it feeling elated, sad, energetic or petulant. Our blood sugar levels also determine our mood levels. Low blood sugar is correlated with a negative mood condition whereas high blood pressure is connected to a positive one, though, it can also be associated with heightened moods such as being sad and angry. In general, high blood pressure is bad for the brain. The key is to maintain a stable level of blood sugar throughout the day.
What you should incorporate in your diet for a good mood:
Here is a list of some nutrients that can help in you feeling upbeat.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can impact your mood state. As per a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, there was a link between low blood levels of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids and depression, pessimism and impulsiveness. Research also shows that people who suffer from depression have reduced levels of this nutrient in some parts of their brain.
Here is an interesting fact, 60 percent of your brain and central nervous system constitutes of fat, primarily of Omega-3 fatty acids. The fatty acids help in several ways. It reduces the inflammation in the body as well as the brain (which as mentioned before can be a contributor to mood fluctuations). This nutrient also assists in regulating the activity in areas of the brain responsible for controlling mood and emotion.
Rich sources of this nutrient are fatty fish, walnuts, canola oil and flax seeds.
Folate and vitamin B12
Folate and vitamin B12 can also determine your mood. In a study conducted by the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, candidates who had more folate in their red blood cells claimed that they experienced lesser bad moods over the course of a week. Some scientists believe that the body uses these nutrients to produce serotonin, which as mentioned before influences the state of mind.
Lentils, oranges, black-eyed peas, soybeans, oatmeal, beetroot, broccoli and sunflower seeds are good sources of folate. Cottage cheese, milk, yogurt, shellfish and wild salmon contain healthy doses of vitamin B12.
Vitamin D is another nutrient that increases the amount of serotonin, thus helping in enhancing your mood. Researchers from the University of Toronto found out that those who were troubled by depression, especially with seasonal affective disorder showed an improvement when the vitamin D levels came to normal within a year.
While sunlight is the best source of Vitamin D, fish with bones, milk, soy milk and egg yolks provide this nutrient too.
Rich sources of protein aids in maintaining a steady level of blood sugar and thus enables a good mood as well as an increase in energy. The nutrient also assists in the slow absorption of carbohydrate in the blood which will once again make you feel upbeat. Protein also constitutes tryptophan, an amino acid that plays the role of a natural mood regulator as it assists the body to balance and produce certain hormones including increasing the production of serotonin.
Good sources of protein include milk, eggs, soy, seafood, peas, beans and almonds.
Carbohydrates might have been projected in a bad light, especially in fad diets, but the truth of the matter is that this nutrient is vital as it helps in raising the level of serotonin. Research suggests that people who tend to be on a low-carb diet have a greater chance of feeling exhausted, angry and depressed. And though tryptophan is found in almost all protein-rich foods, carbohydrates helps in increasing its levels, enabling more of it to enter the brain. It is thus best to have protein and carbohydrates together.
Do keep in mind we are talking about complex carbohydrates such as legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables here that also provide other nutrients and fiber.
Your body needs minerals too for brain health and better mood.
Iron deficiency can result in a depressed state of mind, tiredness and lack of attention. Sources include green leafy vegetables, red meat, lentils and beans.
Magnesium is vital for stress management. As per The Doctors Book of Food Remedies by By Selene Yeager and the Editors of Prevention Health Books, being deficient in magnesium can lead to decreased levels of dopamine, a brain chemical that like serotonin, aids in controlling mood. You can get this nutrient from almonds, spinach, beans and other nuts.
Selenium adds in safeguarding against inflammatory brain conditions as well as in minimising oxidative stress. Sources include almonds, spinach, beans and other nuts.
Want to avoid those ghastly PMS mood swings? Resort to calcium. The Doctors Book of Food Remedies states that calcium influences certain brain chemicals and hormones that affect mood. It is also believed in reducing the symptoms of PMS such as mood alterations and cramping. Some of the sources include milk, spinach, soybeans and ragi.
What to avoid
As tempting as sugars, refined carbohydrates and processed foods can be, they are bad news when it comes to your mood. Excessive sugar increases inflammation by triggering the chemical reaction that causes this. It also wreaks havoc on your blood sugar, producing extreme spikes, leaving you irritable and exhausted. Refined carbs create the same result as it rapidly gets metabolised into sugar. So while it is okay to indulge in them once in a while (we are human after all), they are best avoided in large amounts because the relationship between food and mood swings is direct.
There is simply no running away from it, the key to good mood and a healthy mind is a well-balanced diet.