How much does food really affect your mood? Science says some things we eat and drink can decrease our serotonin levels. This brain chemical helps regulate how we feel, ideally keeping depression and anxiety in check.
If you've been feeling blue and you don't know why, consider whether you've been consuming several servings of any of these serotonin-reducing foods and beverages. I'll also touch on other foods that can impact your mood so your diet supports your mental health and well-being.
Foods That May Leave You Feeling Blue
Breakfast cereals, candy bars, packaged bakery items and sugary sodas are heavily refined and processed. These sweets limit our dietary consumption of B vitamins and tryptophan, nutrients that help the body make serotonin.
While we all know it feels great to reach for the pint of chocolate fudge brownie after a stressful day at work, too many desserts can eventually prevent the body from making the serotonin we need. Refined sugars also cause a quick energy spike followed by a crash that can completely sap your energy, leading to fatigue and depression.
Maybe your cravings tend to the salty side, but grabbing the chips can also affect your mood. According to Psychology Today, foods with trans fats can lower serotonin levels. Some of the most common culprits in this category include fast food, bagged and packaged snacks, pizza and other processed items.
Foods To Improve Your Mood
If you want to trade these no-go snacks for good-mood food, you have a few savory options. Salmon, eggs, nuts and cheese all contain tryptophan, which supports serotonin production. The Cleveland Clinic reports that lean proteins increase the levels of the brain chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine, which can improve motivation, concentration and mood. In this category, go for plain yogurt, beans, tofu, chicken and fish. Beef is also a good source of protein in small portions.
If you have a sweet tooth, swap the Snickers for berries. Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are full of vitamin C, which helps the body soothe anxiety and stress by regulating a hormone called cortisol. Try them frozen, blended in a smoothie or straight from the farmer's market. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, beans and sweet potatoes allow the brain to use more of its available serotonin, so throwing some berries in your oatmeal is another mood-boosting meal idea.
You can also get into a Mediterranean state of mind to relieve symptoms such as anxiety, stress and depression. Studies show that the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes olive oil, fresh produce, seafood, legumes and nuts, stabilizes blood sugar after meals for a beneficial effect on mood.
In general, getting a wide range of dietary nutrients will help you feel your best both physically and mentally. Some of the many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that contribute to a positive mood include zinc, potassium, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, folate, selenium, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and thiamine.
A Multifaceted Approach to Mental Health
While diet does play an important role in your mood and mental health, it's not the only factor in maintaining healthy serotonin levels. You should also make sure to get some sunshine every day, exercise and spend time in the fresh air to improve your outlook.
Practices such as mindfulness meditation and yoga also help with the flow of important brain chemicals, including serotonin. Even just spending time with family and friends can pump up serotonin levels and reduce anxiety-causing cortisol, so keep your calendar full this season as you try out your new mood-boosting diet. If you find yourself struggling with your mental health and don't find relief with these measures, talk to your health care provider or a counselor.