If eating a bar of chocolate puts a smile on your face, it’s because it is a feel good food. Chocolate is one of the best mood-enhancing foods as it contains one of the best sources of the drug phenylethylamine, which has ability to boost your mood. Here are reasons why you should include feel-good foods in your diet.
Feel-good foods work in different ways to alter the production or release of neurotransmitters, chemical messengers in your body that carry information between nerve cells. Certain nutrients in food trigger the release of neurotransmitters in the brain; for example, calming serotonin is released when you eat carbohydrates such as fruits, bread and grains. This is why some people find comfort in eating bread, popcorn, fruits such as plums and grapes when they are upset or stressed out.
Neurotransmitters work like an orchestra. Each chemical is influenced by other hormones, so they have to be in balance at all times for your mood to remain regulated. The absence of nutrients that feed these brain chemicals also plays a part in determining your mood. For instance, low folate acid levels lower the amount of serotonin in the brain and this can lead to depression. You should eat plenty of green leafy vegetables and high fibre cereals, and also drink plenty of orange juice, as these are some of the best sources of folate acid. Clinical studies have found that many depressed patients are deficient in folic acid, and their depression improves when they are given supplements.
A low calorie intake, for example, when you are on a diet, can also alter how you feel. Cutting down on calories can affect your mood negatively and you should ensure you are getting the recommended daily calorific intake to remain mentally balanced. If your diet is faddy (influenced by your likes or mood), it does not leave you with enough energy to go through normal tasks and this can make you quite irritable.
What foods should you eat?
Selenium reduces anxiety and improves mood, so eat lots of selenium rich foods including garlic, meat, tuna, swordfish and oysters (available from good fish shops). You can also snack on Brazil nuts (available in supermarkets and health food stores such as Healthy Yu at Sarit Centre, Westgate and Junction), which have 2,500 times the selenium levels of other nuts. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is linked to behavioural inhibition, is found in egg yolks, peanuts, meat, fish, milk, cheese, broccoli and potatoes. Include these foods in your diet.
Sources of dopamine and noradrenaline, which are both responsible for alertness, excitement and mental activity, are found in low-fat proteins such as seafood, skinless chicken or turkey, tofu (available in supermarkets), beans and skimmed milk. Oysters are particularly known to enhance your sexual mood.
A study conducted by UK mental health charity, MIND, found many people felt much happier after eating bananas. As well as boosting noradrenaline levels, the tryptophan in bananas increases serotonin levels. So, next time you are feeling low snack on a nutritious, filling and healthy banana.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, seafood, walnuts, olive oil, and hemp, flax and pumpkin seeds and their oils, have also been found to reduce depression. Women who eat fish throughout their pregnancy are less likely to suffer depression. In areas where a lot of fish is consumed, depression rates tend to be low. Also, aim to eat more green vegetables and high fibre foods, which increase energy levels, as you need energy to feel alive and well, and also perform daily tasks.
You should also avoid foods that are likely to bring your mood down. The worst culprits include sugar, caffeine and alcohol. While all provide an initial kick by elevating your mood almost instantly, this is rapidly followed by a slump that is likely to last a long time.