Modifying Mood With Food

Modifying Mood With Food

The food we eat fuels our bodies but it also fuels our moods. What you eat affects your mood and how well your brain functions. Minor changes in your diet can help control your moods, at least temporarily, by influencing the level of certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. What you eat affects how you feel and how you feel affects what you eat. When stressed we tend to overeat or under eat, neither of which is healthy. Making smart choices about what we eat can help ease the burden on our minds.

Neurotransmitters Affect Body and Mind

People are more alert when their brains are producing the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. People are more relaxed and calm when producing the neurotransmitter serotonin. A stable brain serotonin level is associated with a positive mood state; while reduced serotonin can result in a depressive state. Of important note is the effect of co-factors on neurotransmitters and resulting mood.

Co-factors that are involved in the synthesis of these transmitters include Vitamin B6, zinc and magnesium. They are co-factors in the enzyme aromatic acid decarboxylase, which converts dihydroxy-phenylalanine to dopamine and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) to serotonin. Thus a deficiency in vitamin B6 can decrease a particular neurotransmitter.

Food Comforts: Stress Reduction

Certain foods make us feel warm and safe like comfort food and soul food. We form emotional attachments to food because we associate it with our past experiences. Foods that were a big part of our childhood can bring back memories of that time in our lives. The sensations that we experienced earlier in life are associated with certain emotions that can be positive or negative.

Another group of chemicals that can influence mood and appetite are the endorphins. These are the body’s natural opiate-like chemicals that produce a positive mood state, decreased pain sensitivity, and reduced stress. Endorphins are released when a person is in pain, during starvation, and during exercise. A food substance related to endorphins is phenylethylamine, which is found in chocolate.

Carbohydrates & Serotonin

Your diet can change the composition of your brain. This influences how you are feeling, your mental clarity and your alertness. Certain parts of our food are precursors to the chemical messengers that carry information between the brain cells. The amount of available precursor in your food affects the amount of neurotransmitter available to your brain cells. One of the more important neurotransmitters is serotonin. Serotonin affects our feeling of well-being. When serotonin is low, you are more likely to feel stressed, angry and/or depressed.

Eating carbohydrates triggers the release of insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin clears out all of the amino acids in the bloodstream except for tryptophan. In the brain, Tryptophan is converted in into serotonin. Some healthy food choices for releasing serotonin include whole wheat bread, cereals and pastas, rice, grains, fruits, etc. These foods raise levels of serotonin, and temporarily will have a calming effect on the mind and body. Carbohydrates affect brain serotonin because they increase the amount of tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan is the amino-acid precursor of serotonin. It is this diet-neurotransmitter relationship that can help explain why many people may feel drowsy in the afternoon after eating a large carbohydrate meal. The subsequent rise in serotonin in the brain is what lead to drowsiness.

Nature gave us an easy way of harnessing the power of our brain to control our appetite and mood. We don’t need drugs, or supplements, herbs or pills. Just by eating the immense variety of carbs on this earth, we can lose weight, feel better, and maybe make everyone more peaceful.


Oatmeal is carbohydrate dense. Oatmeal is a great energy food in that it is a low glycemic index, but for it to be an optimal energy food, the oatmeal should include a protein side dish which will reduce the serotonin increase from the carbohydrates (carbohydrate intake causes the body to send out an amino acid called Tryptophan into the brain to trigger the manufacture of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel tranquil and calm. By eating carbohydrate foods that are rich in fiber-like oatmeal, your body will absorb them slowly, keeping serotonin flowing steadily. Adding protein with such a meal will slow the serotonin release even slower.

Protein: Focus and Alertness

During digestion, proteins are broken down into their amino acid constituents. One of these amino acids is tyrosine which increases the production of the neurotransmitters norepinepherine, dopamine and epinephrine. These neurotransmitters are responsible for making us feel alert and energetic. Healthy choices include fish, poultry, lean meat and eggs.

Fight Depression with Folic Acid, Selenium and Fatty Acids

Folic Acid

Eat your spinach and drink your orange juice to keep depression at bay. Studies have shown levels of folic acid to be lower in people who are depressed. Eating foods high in folic acid may help prevent or alleviate mild depression. Although researchers don’t yet fully understand the connection, folate deficiency appears to impair the metabolism of serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline, neurotransmitters important for mood.


A member of the legume family, lentils are an excellent source of folate, a B vitamin that appears to be essential for mood and proper nerve function in the brain. A cup of cooked lentils provides 90% of the recommended daily allowance of folic acid. A healthy bonus: lentils contain protein and fiber, which are filling and help to stabilize blood sugar.


Brazil nuts, tuna, sunflower seeds and whole-grain cereals are all good sources of selenium. Studies have shown that people who have low levels of selenium are more anxious. Increasing levels of selenium helps to normalize mood.


Walnuts have long been thought of as a “brain food” because of their wrinkled, bi-lobed (brain-like) appearance. But now we know that walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, a type of fat that’s needed for brain cells and mood-lifting neurotransmitters to function properly and possible help some people with depression.

Fatty Fish

Eat fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring as well as omega-3 eggs. The fatty acids found in these foods are important to the health of nerve and brain cell membranes. Lack of these fats in your diet may put you at higher risk for depression. In the past few years, research has suggested that vitamin D may increase the levels of serotonin, one of the key neurotransmitters influencing our mood, and that it may help to relieve mood disorders.

Vitamin D: Cholecalciferol

In a 1998 controlled experiment, Australian researchers found that cholecalciferol (400 and 800 IU), significantly enhanced positive affect when given to healthy individuals. Forty-four subjects were given 400 IU cholecalciferol, 800 IU cholecalciferol, or placebo for 5 days during late winter in a random double-blind study. Results on a self-report measure showed that vitamin D3 enhanced positive affect a full standard deviation and there was some evidence of a reduction in negative affect. The authors concluded: “vitamin D3 deficiency provides a compelling and parsimonious explanation for seasonal variations in mood.”

n 1999, in an even more interesting study, vitamin D scientist, Bruce Hollis, teamed up with Michael Gloth and Wasif Alam to find that 100,000 IU of vitamin D given as a one time oral dose improved depression scales better than light therapy in a small group of patients with seasonal affective disorder. All subjects in the vitamin D group improved in all measures and, more importantly, improvement in 25(OH)D levels levels was significantly associated with the degree of improvement.

To further strengthen the case that vitamin D deficiency causes some cases of depression, evidence should exist that the incidence of depression has increased over the last century. During that time, humans have reduced their sunlight exposure via urbanization (tall buildings and pollution reduce UVB), industrialization (working inside reduces UVB exposure), cars (glass totally blocks UVB), clothes (even light clothing blocks UVB), sunblock and misguided medical advice to never let sunlight strike you unprotected skin. All these factors contribute to reduce circulating 25(OH)D levels. Klerman and Weissman’s claim that major depression has increased dramatically over the last 80 years is one of the most famous (and controversial) findings in modern psychiatry.

Is depression associated with other conditions thought to be associated with vitamin D deficiency, such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, or osteoporosis? For example, there is a strong association between heart disease and depression, and countless theories to explain it. The obvious one—that heart disease would cause anyone to get depressed—is incorrect. You see, depression often precedes the heart disease, suggesting a third factor causes both. Moreover, if depression were associated with heart disease, one would expect excess unexplained mortality in major depression, which is a well-established finding.

Remember that association does not mean causation. If A is associated with B, then A could cause B, B could cause A, or a third factor(s), C, could cause both A and B. Therefore, if heart disease is associated with depression then the possibilities are depression caused the heart disease, heart disease caused the depression, or an unknown factor(s), perhaps vitamin D deficiency, caused some portion of both the depression and the heart disease. “Perhaps” being the key word. Remember, most of the serious errors in psychiatry (and medicine) are made when associations are confused with causation; or when subsequence is confused with consequence.

Summer sunlight increases brain serotonin levels twice as much as winter sunlight, a finding compatible with both bright light in the visible spectrum and vitamin D affecting mood. evidence suggests that vitamin D may help mood but that evidence is not conclusive. We all know how we feel after a week at the beach, but is that bright light, vitamin D, or something else?

Evidence exists that major depression is associated with low vitamin D levels and that depression has increased in the last century as vitamin D levels have surely fallen. Evidence exists that depression is associated with heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and low bone mineral density, all illnesses thought to be caused, in part, by vitamin D deficiency. Finally, vitamin D has profound effects on the brain including the neurotransmitters involved in major depression.

If you suffer from depression, get your 25(OH)D level checked and, if it is lower than 35 ng/mL (87nM/L), you are vitamin D deficient and should begin treatment. If you are not depressed, get your 25(OH)D level checked anyway. If it is lower than 35 ng/mL (87 nM/L), you are vitamin D deficient and should begin treatment.

It’s quite simple.

Protect Memory with Eggs and Berries

Found in high concentrations in eggs, Choline is a vitamin B complex that is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which is linked to memory. Alzheimer’s patients have been shown to have low levels of acetylcholine. Eating eggs and other foods rich in choline may help to ensure the availability of acetylcholine to your brain.

Eat lots of berries. Blueberries, raspberries, and goji berries as they all contain high levels of antioxidants which help to destroy free radicals that damage cells. Considering their size, berries are pound for pound one of the best anti-aging and longevity promoting foods. Low in fat and packed with nutrients, you can not go wrong. Blueberries contain many vitamins, minerals and fiber that provide numerous health benefits. Increasing fiber in your diet reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, and also helps with controlling hunger too. Darker berries ( like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and goji berries contain high levels of anti-oxidants which help destroy free radicals that consume cell oxygen, damage the cells and ultimately can wear away your memory. Berries also contain a giant portion of phytochemicals which can exert a positive effect on brain function. Nutritional antioxidants, such as the phytochemicals found in dark berries can reverse age-related declines in brain function, namely the cognitive and motor deficits associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

“Our Food Should Be Our Medicine and Our Medicine Should Be Our Food”


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