Food for thought: Grub that improves your psychological well-being


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We spend a lot of time talking and hearing about how food affects our waistlines and muscle mass. But what about what it does to our brains? Ladies don’t need scientific experiments — even though there are ones that confirm it — to know that chocolate affects mood. But beyond that, there are plenty of foods and nutrients that contribute to whether we feel like conquering the world or wallowing in bed.

A study published last week in BioEssays stated that probiotics help produce, absorb and transport neurochemicals, including serotonin, dopamine and nerve growth factor, which affect the regulation of mood, appetite, sleep, attention, memory, learning and motivation, to name a few. Those neurochemicals are essential for healthy brain and nerve function. So could a daily yogurt snack help improve your Jekyll/Hyde mood swings? It certainly couldn’t hurt.

A few studies have found that omega-3 counters depression in patients who have major depression, but not anxiety. You can add more omega-3s to your diet through flaxseed, walnuts, beans, fish, winter squash and olive oil.

Thiamine (a.k.a. vitamin B1) is a vitamin found in yeast, pork, whole grains, asparagus, kale, potatoes and eggs, among plenty of other foods. There are at least four scientific studies showing that thiamine improves mood. You could kill two birds with one stone by making omelets your new favorite food — throw some veggies in there, and you’ve got a nutritional breakfast with mood-boosting omega-3s and thiamine!

Vitamin B12
Studies have linked vitamin B12 to more successful outcomes for depressed patients. Foods rich in vitamin B12 include cheese, beef, fish, chicken, tuna and oysters.

Most of us know tryptophan as the culprit behind our post-Thanksgiving food comas, but studies have shown it also is associated with improved mood in people with depression. It’s not necessary to splurge on a whole 20-lb. turkey yet — tryptophan also is found in other meats, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, nuts, beans, lentils and meat substitutes, such as textured vegetable protein or mycoprotein.

We know it’s hard to bypass a bag of peanut butter M&Ms for an apple, but your mood could be better off for getting your sugar fix the healthy way. Since the sugar in those M&Ms is absorbed so quickly into the bloodstream, they could cause a “sugar high.” The initial surge of energy soon wears off as your body produces insulin, at which point you’re left feeling drained and low. Stick to more wholegrain cereals, nuts, beans, lentils, fruit and veggies.

By not drinking enough water, you can experience dehydration symptoms, such as irritability and loss of concentration.

If you’re a Starbucks addict or can’t stay away from the soda machine, the excess caffeine could be worsening your mood. In large quantities, caffeine can increase blood pressure, anxiety, depressive symptoms and sleep problems.

Since booze has a depressant effect on the brain, it’s possible for it to worsen your mood. Additionally, when you drink, the liver goes through a detoxification process that uses thiamine, zinc and other nutrients. If you don’t get enough nutrients in your diet, this could deplete you of one of the vitamins mentioned above, which are meant to improve your mood.