Did you know that food has the power to turn your frown upside down?
We’re talking about brain-feeding super food – non-processed and organic where possible – capable of both boosting and sustaining those positive vibes.
The brain and cognitive system are responsible for regulating mood… so if you’re fuelling your brain with the wrong things, you’re going to know about it! Your brain is a hotspot of chemical reactions and nerve impulse transmissions. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical, responsible for maintaining happiness, calming anxiety and alleviating symptoms of depression. Manufactured by the body in the brain and intestines, serotonin may affect mood, memory, sleep, digestion, appetite and social behavior. So where do we get this stuff?!
There are a handful of foods that have been shown to increase serotonin levels naturally.
T U R M E R I C contains curcumin – an active ingredient capable of travelling into the brain to boost serotonin.
C A C A O and dark chocolate are popular mood boosters. Cacao (containing all the chocolatey goodness, without the sugar!) increases serotonin levels in both the brain and intestine.
G R E E N T E A contains an amino acid (l-theanine) responsible for increasing serotonin and dopamine levels. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for controlling the reward and pleasure centers of the brain, and for regulating emotional responses.
S A L M O N and other cold-water fatty fish are high in omega 3 fatty acids, which can help to raise serotonin levels.
F E R M E N T E D F O O D S help balance the stomach’s flora – or bacteria. An abundance of ‘bad’ bacteria can lower serotonin and increase depression, so in restoring balance to the gut we’re preventing this.
And, as much as we believe a stiff drink will cheer us up, alcohol, soft drinks, and caffeine all work to actually inhibit the production of serotonin, so are best avoided.
Studies have shown that strategically eating carbohydrates alone, without a protein source, also increases levels of serotonin in the body. This might explain why we tend to opt for carb-heavy options as ‘comfort foods’. However, as we’ve already established, non-processed foods (aka REAL foods) are best. So opt for healthy, complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, brown rice, lentils and sweet potato. As well as helping to boost happiness, these foods will help you to feel fuller for longer, provide sustained energy, and lose and maintain your weight.
In addition to a focus on nutritionally increasing serotonin levels, you can improve the general health and functioning of your brain through your diet too. Research shows that there are nine nutrients capable of boosting mood and banishing depression: calcium, chromium, folate, iron, magnesium, zinc, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. You can read more about the foods you need to fulfill your nutrient requirements here, but as a basic rule, opt for lots of leafy greens, whole grains, starchy vegetables like sweet potato, nuts, seeds, beans, eggs, and lean meats.
Happy happiness eating!
References: Be Brain Fit, Greatist, Medline.