Improving Mood With Food
Now that winter is here, it’s time to layer your clothing, bundle up in blankets, and find ways to boost your serotonin, a chemical considered key to preventing depression.
The cloudy days, freezing temperatures, and lack of sun are all part of the winter season. So, it’s natural to feel blue sometimes during the winter, especially when the weather suddenly shifts like a rollercoaster going downhill. Serotonin can be a big help in regulating your mood shifts during the dreary days of winter.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps to regulate mood, sleep, and the digestive system. The chemical is produced by nerve cells and sends signals to other nerve cells in the body. Studies have shown that reduced serotonin levels may lead to mood disorders as well as depression. In addition, low levels of serotonin in the brain may cause memory problems.
Serotonin is made from tryptophan, an amino acid that comes from plant or animal sources. The liver uses tryptophan to produce vitamin B3 (niacin) which the body needs for energy metabolism and DNA production. Besides serotonin, tryptophan also produces melatonin, which helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
The body cannot produce tryptophan on its own. But, the good news is that tryptophan is found in many foods. So, that means certain foods may support the production of serotonin, according to Dr. Caroline Leaf, a neuroscientist, and author of Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess.
Five Foods That Can Boost Serotonin
Dr. Leaf recommends eating certain foods during the winter that can help us keep our moods up and stay healthy at the same time. The following are Leaf’s top five foods:
Eggs not only taste great any way you fix them, but they have important nutrients that have been linked to improving brain health. For one, eggs have protein which maintains cells and provides energy to the body. Eggs also have choline, an essential nutrient similar to B vitamins. The liver can make small amounts of choline, but the rest is obtained through the diet. Choline supports brain health and mood. Eggs also contain tryptophan, which makes serotonin and melatonin.
Whether it’s shaped as a cube or melted over a vegetable, cheese is one of the most unique foods that come in a variety of flavors, textures, and forms. Besides being tasty, cheese is a common source of tryptophan. Studies have found that tryptophan has an impact on mood, depression, memory skills, learning, and visual cognition. Cheddar cheese has the highest amount of amino acid, with 91 milligrams of tryptophan per ounce.
3. Soy Products
Soy products, such as tofu, soy milk, soy nuts, edamame, and soy sauce are good sources of tryptophan and protein. A two-year study involving postmenopausal women found that soy products improved their qualify of life and decreased their depression symptoms.
Another study involved women between the ages of 40 and 60 who had at least one menopausal symptom. After eight weeks, the women who consumed low-doses of soy saw significantly alleviated symptoms of depression and insomnia.
Fish is usually guaranteed to be at the top of anyone’s healthy foods list. For one, fish is another good source of tryptophan and protein. What’s more, fish, particularly oily fish like salmon and mackerel, is considered an excellent source of vitamin D, which has also been associated with improving mood and overall mental well-being. One study noted that vitamin D would be a “simple and cost-effective solution” for those at risk for depression and other mental disorders. Vitamin D also is proven to be essential for supporting strong bones, teeth, healthy muscles, and the immune system.
Fish also contains the ever-necessary omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to the human body yet the body cannot make on its own. Also, important is the fact that omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to lower depression and anxiety and promote better brain function and memory.
Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines, as well as in milder fish like rainbow trout and halibut.
5. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds not only provide tryptophan, but are also high in plant-based proteins, healthy fats, and fiber. Almonds, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds are all good sources of tryptophan and carry other benefits.
Foods Can Also Bring You Down
Just as there are serotonin-boosting foods that can improve your mood, highly processed foods, like fast foods, sugary drinks, and deli meats, can worsen your mood. This is because highly processed foods have unhealthy amounts of sugar and other ingredients that can affect the way the brain functions and “our ability to think clearly and manage stress,” Dr. Leaf says.
Besides the actual foods you’re eating, Dr. Leaf advises being aware of your emotional state while you are eating. Why? Because our minds run our digestive system, Dr. Leaf says, and being “worked up” while eating can have a negative impact on how our body digests food and assimilates nutrients. So, if you are in an emotional state before you eat, taking a few deep breaths before you begin eating can help calm you down.
Keep in mind that foods are just one way to boost your mood in the winter. If you continue to feel depressed, talking to a mental health professional may be another important boost to help you.