This week in our “Year Of Transformation” Chef Pete explores how the foods we eat impact our mental well-being.
Not a part of our 2024 Year Of Transformation? Learn more and join us here >>>>>
The age-old saying, "You are what you eat," holds a profound truth, particularly when it comes to the intricate interplay between food and mood. Emerging research suggests that the foods you consume play a pivotal role in influencing your emotional well-being. This should make sense when you consider brain is a physical entity, running on the energy that you put into your body, affected by shifts in our hormones, blood sugar levels, and many other biological processes.
When it comes to your mood, you may have always been led to believe that your brain is primarily responsible for your emotions and how you feel. In reality, your gut and your brain are more closely connected than you may think.
The Gut-Brain Axis
At the heart of the food-mood connection lies the gut-brain axis, a bidirectional communication system between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. This complex network involves the endocrine, immune, and nervous systems, working together to regulate mood, cognition, and emotional responses.
Serotonin, the "Feel-Good" Neurotransmitter
One of the key players in this biochemical symphony is serotonin, often referred to as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter. Approximately 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut. Tryptophan, an amino acid found in certain foods, is a precursor to serotonin. Foods rich in tryptophan, such as turkey, nuts, and seeds, can potentially enhance serotonin production and positively impact mood.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids & Brain Health
Omega-3 fatty acids, abundant in fatty fish, have been linked to improved cognitive function and mental well-being. These essential fats contribute to the structure and function of cell membranes in the brain, influencing neurotransmitter signaling and reducing inflammation.
Read on here for more on fats for brain health
Micronutrients and Neurotransmitter Synthesis
Essential micronutrients, including B-vitamins, zinc, and magnesium, play crucial roles in the synthesis and regulation of neurotransmitters. Deficiencies in these micronutrients have been associated with mood disorders. Incorporating a diverse range of whole, real foods can help ensure an adequate intake of these vital nutrients.
Learn more about what eating real food entails in this post
Dietary Strategies for Supporting Mood
Stop for a moment and think about how food affects your mood. If you are like most people, you may feel tired after a big meal. This is caused by an increase in your blood sugar levels and a decrease in orexin (a brain chemical that controls your alertness).
Alternatively, when you’re extremely hungry and your blood sugar levels start to decrease, more-primitive regions of the brain start to take over and you become restless and irritated or “hangry” Eating enough to keep blood sugar stable, but not so much that it rises too high, is important for mood maintenance. The quality and quantity of the nutrients available in your food also go a long way toward determining our emotional resiliency and stability.
Incorporate Whole, Nutrient-Dense Foods
Emphasize a diet rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods, including humanely raised animal proteins, locally and seasonally sourced produce and naturally occurring fats. These foods provide a broad spectrum of essential nutrients that support overall health, including mental well-being.
Prioritize Omega-3-Rich Foods
Regularly include fatty fish (such as salmon and mackerel), flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts in your diet to boost omega-3 fatty acid intake. These fats have anti-inflammatory properties and are crucial for optimal brain function.
Mindful Carbohydrate Consumption
Carbohydrates play a role in serotonin production, and opting for real food options from seasonally and locally sourced produce can contribute to stable blood sugar levels and sustained energy, positively impacting mood.
Confused about choosing carbohydrates? Read this post
Hydrate for Brain Health
Dehydration can impair cognitive function and exacerbate mood disturbances. Ensure adequate water intake to support overall brain health.
Read this post for more tips on staying optimally hydrated
Foods to Include
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are not only good for your heart, but also support your mental health. Low levels of omega 3 have been linked to depression and impulsivity. Include foods such as
- Wild Caught Salmon
- Egg Yolks
- Mackerel, Sardines, Herrings and Anchovies
- Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, and Hemp Seeds
Thiamine (Vitamin B1)
A lack of thiamine, also known as Vitamin B1, has been linked to a poorer mood, fatigue and lack of confidence. Thiamine is found in many whole, nutrient dense foods including:
Folic acid is an important nutrient for pregnant women and those wanting to conceive. What you may be unaware of is that a lack of folic acid can have a negative impact on your mood. Foods rich in folic acid include:
- Citrus Fruits
Your body needs iron to produce hemoglobin, a chemical that’s responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the rest of your body. An iron deficiency does not only result in a lack of oxygen in your blood and inner organs but can also leave you feeling depressed and lethargic (or sluggish). Eat these foods to ensure you are getting what you need::
- Meat, Poultry and Pork (Grass-Fed & Pastured)
Of special note:
A powerful gut-healing food, bone broth contains collagen, glutamine, and glycine, which repair the digestive tract and therefore increase nutrient absorption.
No need to spend hours making your own – Chef Pete has done it for you – order yours today>>>>>>
Foods To Avoid
The nutrients found in whole foods have a positive impact on your brain and mental health. Foods that are bad for your brain and can contribute to an imbalance in the production and availability of your neurotransmitters
Sugar and Refined Foods
Highly processed foods and those high in refined sugars may contribute to inflammation and negatively impact mood. Refined foods decrease your body’s ability to maintain balanced blood sugar levels, and in result affects your energy levels and mood. Refined sugar also decreases your body’s ability to handle pain. If you are eating a lot of sweets, you will likely feel that headache or back pain quicker and more intensely.
Learn more about sweet treats and your health goals here
Caffeine & Alcohol
While moderate caffeine consumption may have cognitive benefits, excessive intake can lead to jitteriness and anxiety You may use caffeine to wake you up or give you a boost, but when you are relying on your caffeine hit too regularly, you are decreasing your body’s production of serotonin (the neurotransmitter that affects mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, and some social behavior). Similarly, alcohol, when consumed in excess, can disrupt neurotransmitter balance and contribute to mood swings.
Dairy is one of the top 5 food allergens. An allergy to a certain food like the dairy found in milk, cheese and butter can cause symptoms such as anxiety, attention deficit disorders, fatigue, gas, headaches, irritability, and joint pain.
Additives & Preservatives
Artificial colors and flavors such as yellow and red dyes, and MSG, along with other additives and preservatives are also called ‘excitotoxins’ because they excite your brain’s neurons to be overly active, and can even cause them to die. Consuming these additives over years has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases and mood disorders. These artificial flavors and preservatives have even been banned in some countries!
To better understand your eating patterns and how they affect your body and mood, keep a food-mood diary. Write down what you eat and when. Write down how you feel as well. Not only will you start to see patterns of your food habits, you will start to see if something is negatively affecting your health.
The connection between food and mood is a multifaceted interplay influenced by the intricate mechanisms of the gut-brain axis. By adopting a whole-foods-based, nutrient-dense diet, you have the power to positively impact your mental well-being. Moreover, being mindful of food choices, understanding the physiological basis of these connections, and making informed dietary decisions empowers you to proactively support your mood and mental well-being through the foods you consume.Interested in our 2024 Year Of Transformation? Learn more and join us here >>>>>