How Food Affects Your Mood in 4 Simple Steps

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, P!XELTREE

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, P!XELTREE

When you think of being in a bad mood, do you imagine lunging for some broccoli and grass-fed steak? Documentaries like Fed Up and books like Sugar, Salt, Fat are shedding light on slogans like the Pringles jingle, “Once you pop, you just can’t stop.” The reason? To expose these processed foods as products that hold a darker purpose, beyond just discovering food that pleases our taste buds. They are calling to the public’s attention that the addictiveness of our food is something that affects us at a biochemical level. (You can read about that here, but let’s press on, shall we?) What we eat connects to how we feel because certain foods produce certain brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters.

The Food Mood Connection: Which brain chemicals?

There are numerous neurotransmitters involved in your body’s functioning, with two major ones having to do with mood: Serotonin and Dopamine. They are commonly thought of as the happiness hormones:

  • Serotonin: As described by, serotonin has a profound effect on regulating mood, sleep, cognition, sexual behavior, and appetite. High levels of serotonin can lead to a cheerful disposition and the ability to withstand everyday stress. Depression can result from chronically low serotonin levels. Serotonin can help you to override your immediate impulses.
  • Dopamine: As detailed from Psychology Today, dopamine affects your emotions, your sensations of pleasure and pain, and helps control your brain’s reward and pleasure centers. As soon as you see something potentially rewarding, dopamine is what compels you to pursue it. Located in the deep middle region of your brain, there are five dopamine receptors–nerve cells that take in dopamine. Your body requires dopamine for normal movement such as walking and balance.

How a Healthy Meal Can Affect Your Mood in 4 Simple Steps

  1. Eat food: Let’s use the aforementioned grass-fed steak and broccoli.
  2. Make brain chemicals: The healthy food items above contain essential amino acids that are the building blocks necessary to make serotonin and dopamine.
  3. Distribute brain chemicals for use: Nerve cells then produce the serotonin and dopamine, and send them off into your body to communicate.
  4. Use brain chemicals to stabilize mood: The receptors then talk to your brain that you do, indeed, have the chemicals needed to stabilize your body’s hormone balance for these mood-altering chemicals, thus increasing balance to your mood.

What are other foods that produce serotonin and dopamine?

Some examples:

  • Serotonin: Tryptophan is the building block of serotonin. Tryptophan can be found in fish, poultry and meat, such as salmon, fresh tuna, snapper, sardines, herring, mackerel and halibut. Nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, also have tryptophan.  Fatty acids help to produce serotonin as well, so that would include oils like fish, walnut, and flax. The tryptophan list also contains eggs, fruits such as bananas, kiwi, and pineapple, as well as sea vegetables, legumes, and beans.
  • Dopamine: Tyrosine is a main building block of dopamine. Tyrosine can be found in animal protein such as varieties of fish, chicken, turkey, and other forms of poultry. Also containing tyrosine are blueberries, spirulina, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, peanuts, bananas, lima beans, and avocados.

So if we know that certain foods promote serotonin and dopamine production, what does it mean for your brain when you don’t eat these foods? Without the building blocks for serotonin and dopamine, your nerve cells don’t have the messages they need to talk to their receptors. Upsetting the balance of these neurotransmitters, or the efficiency of their release or uptake by cells, can affect your mood and stress levels. Now let’s talk about you – have you noticed low moods? Would you consider eating this way to see if it affects your mood? What do you currently eat that is possibly having a negative effect on your moods, given the suggestions above? Let us know in the comments!

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.