How Food Affects Mood

The lifestyles and habits that we maintain have a direct affect on how we feel. Taking walks, doing yoga, exercising, drinking water, eating a nutritionally dense meal and getting enough rest are all examples of behaviors that are thought to improve health under normal circumstances. However, some activities can have benefits that extend to our emotional wellbeing as well. Eating nutritionally-dense meals is among the most important of these activities because the foods we eat have a considerable potential for altering the chemistry of our guts.

What Is Your Gut Microbiome?

Everything you eat changes your gut microbiome-the microscopic organisms in your digestive tract. The microorganisms in your gastrointestinal tract aids in immune response, metabolism and plays a role in overall mood regulation. We acquire most of our gut bacteria shortly after birth, perhaps as early as in the womb. As we age, our microbiome gets changed by our diet, the dust we come into contact with, our pets, medication and other lifestyle and factors.

spinach leaves up close
spinach leaves

A 2018 study conducted by researchers Camille Lassale, G David Batty, Amaria Baghdadli, Felice Jacka, Almudena Sánchez-Villegas, Mika Kivimäki, Tasnime Akbaraly concludes that 12 nutrients (Folate, iron, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and zinc) relate to the prevention of and recover from depression. This study lists “leafy greens, lettuces, peppers, and cruciferous vegetables” as foods with the highest antidepressant affect scores.

These foods are low in excessive calories and are sources of other vitamins and minerals. Plant foods, like leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, have anti-inflammatory properties and will not directly contribute to increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol) levels. These plant antidepressant foods are therefore associated with fewer negative trade-offs than animal food sources containing the same nutrients.

Can Serotonin, Dopamine and Tryptophan Affect Mood?

Some foods can be used to increase the production of dopamine and serotonin in our bodies. Studies like this one from 2016 find that low serotonin levels can increase the risk of “decreased” or worsened mood. This same study states that supplementing tryptophan – an essential amino acid – can have a positive affect on memory and attention. Research by Barbara Strasser, Johanna M Gostner, Dietmar Fuchs reasons that diets rich in tryptophan can improve mood and cognition. Its worth noting that there are several factors to consider when assessing the causal relationship between gut microbiota and mental states, including the baseline inflammation levels of the individual being studied, their immunological state and other elements which influence mental well-being or emotions.

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