Can what you eat affect your mood? There is no doubt that food can have an effect on our emotions. Food can make us feel good, guilty, and even disappointed. And, the saying “you are what you eat” does hold some truth. Some people may feel more energized on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, while others feel lethargic and tired, and some may need to limit carbs and beef up their protein intake. How often you eat and how much can also affect how you feel. Basically, your dietary habits can affect how your brain functions and, in turn, determine your mood.
”Comfort Foods” For a Good Mood
Foods that are sometimes referred to as “comfort foods” are often high in carbohydrates. Some carbohydrates are a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, which is a brain chemical involved in mood. Tryptophan may actually help promote more serotonin activity in the brain which may affect mood. The key is making smart choices and choosing the right carbohydrates that are nutrient dense and a good source of fiber too. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes are some good examples for some “feel good” foods.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids may also play a role in supporting a healthy mood. Ongoing studies are currently evaluating the role of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly the two omega-3s found in fish oil—EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)—in mood health. Today’s refined and processed foods of the American diet have led to a significant shift in the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. The World Health Organization suggests the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 4:1 or lower. This means we should consume 4 parts omega-6 to 1 part omega-3. Unfortunately, Americans eat closer to 10 parts omega-6 to 1 part omega-3; a 10:1 ratio.1 This imbalance in omega-3 fatty acid intake has been linked to various health concerns including mood alterations.2,3 Although more research is needed to determine the association between omega-3’s and mood, some studies suggest that including foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish, walnuts, and avocados in your daily diet may be important for a healthy mood and brain function. Consider an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, such as fish oil or flaxseed oil, to ensure adequate intake of the omega-3 fatty acids.
Did you know exercise may be good for the brain? One study showed a single bout of moderate-intense aerobic exercise to improve mood and positive well-being in adults receiving treatment for major depressive disorder.4 Also, a walking program was beneficial for both men and women with mild cognitive impairment as shown by improved memory and attention.5 We know that exercise is good for us so why not get up and get moving to reap the benefits for your body and your brain!
Supplements and Healthy Mood
In addition to diet and exercise, supplements may play a role in mood and emotional health and/or brain function. Supplementing with fish oil ensures adequate EPA and DHA intake. Other supplements linked to healthy mood include B12, B6, folic acid, and SAM-e.
B vitamins such as B12, B6 and folic acid appear to reduce elevated levels of homocysteine, which is associated with mood and cognitive function.6,7 B6 is necessary for tryptophan metabolism and conversion to serotonin, the brain neurotransmitter for a healthy mood.
B12 deficiency may occur with age and is more common in older adults,8 The Institute of Medicine recommends those aged 50 years and older receive 25 mcg of B12/daily from fortified foods and supplements. Since older adults often have problems absorbing B12 from food, it is suggested that adults over age 50 take a vitamin B12 supplement daily.
SAM-e , or S-adenosylmethionine, is used to help maintain a healthy mood and is a natural way to support emotional well-being. SAM e is a compound naturally produced in the body that may increase levels of brain chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters, responsible for mood.9 Factors related to poor diet and, age can impact the amount of SAM-e found in the body. When levels are low, a SAM-e supplement can help replenish the body’s supply of SAM-e and may help restore a healthy mood naturally.10
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or dementia, see a physician for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
1. Linus Pauling Institute: Essential Fatty Acids: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/othernuts/omega3fa/index.html#disease_prevention
2. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "Omega 3 Fatty Acids Influence Mood, Impulsivity And Personality, Study Indicates." ScienceDaily, 3 Mar. 2006. Web. 14 Feb. 2012.
3. Stahl, LA. et al. The role of omega-3 fatty acids in mood disorders. Curr Opin Investig Drugs, 2008;9:57-64.
4. Bartholomew JB et al. Effects of acute exercise on mood and well-being in patients with major depressive disorder. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2005;37:2032-2037.
5. van Uffelen JG, etal. Walking or vitamin B for older adults with mild cognitive impairment? A randomized controlled trial. Br J sports Med 2008;42:344-51.
6. Ford, AH, Almeida, OP. Effect of homocysteine lowering treatment on cognitive function: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Alzheiners Dis 2012. Jan 9 [Epub ahead of print.]
7. Sachdev, P. Homocysteine, cerebrovascular disease and brain atrophy. J Neuro Sci 2004;15:25-9.
8. Dharmarajan, TS et al. Vitamin B12 deficiency. Recognizing subtle symptoms in older adults. Geriatrics 2003;58:30-4,37-8.
9. Baldessarini RJ. Neuropharmacology of S-adenosyl-L-methionine. Am J Med 1987;83:95-103.
10.S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine for Treatment of Depression, Osteoarthritis, and Liver Disease. Summary, Evidence Report/Technology Assessment: Number 64. AHRQ Publication No. 02-E033, August 2002. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.