Wide Ranging Effects
As we’ll see in this article, our bodies need a wide range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to keep us in great physical and mental condition, so it’s important to nourish them with the right foods and drinks. Let's find out more about how food can affect our mood, sleep, concentration and even our chances of developing depression...
How Food Affects Our Mood
Some foods can have a direct effect on our moods, too. Fatty fish is packed with Omega 3 fatty acids that affect the production of neurotransmitters in our brains, especially serotonin and dopamine. Both of these have a really strong link with our moods and low levels are linked to mood disorders. Fatty fish isn’t the only food that gives us an Omega 3 boost; flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts also count. To support dopamine, we should make sure we're getting plenty of poultry, fish, eggs and leafy greens in our diets.
Protein is another nutrient that can affect our moods. A lot of foods with protein contain tryptophan, an amino acid that can help our bodies produce more serotonin and dopamine. Chicken and turkey are good sources, but if you’re a vegetarian, you can eat beans, lentils and quinoa to reap the benefits.
What we’re not eating can also be important. According to studies, not getting enough folate or B vitamins in general can make us more prone to depression and have a negative impact on our sleep and energy levels. Greens are a great source of folate so we should be sure to include plenty of leafy greens, broccoli and peas when we’re struggling with low mood. Low selenium levels are also linked to fatigue, anxiety and even depression. We can snack on walnuts or a handful of Brazil nuts to get our selenium levels up.
Depression may be linked to chemical imbalances in the brain but some nutrients are thought to make this more likely, especially when deficient in them. For example, low levels of vitamin D are linked to a higher risk of depression and experts believe that getting enough vitamin D can be crucial for a healthy mind. Natural sunlight is the best option but we can also get vitamin D from our diets through fatty fish, eggs and liver. This is the better option when the sun isn’t out in colder climates.
How Food Affects Our Sleep
Another important nutrient is vitamin B6, which our bodies use to make both melatonin and serotonin. If you’re not aware of melatonin and its role in the body, it’s known as the sleep hormone. This gives an indication of how important it is for sleep! Our melatonin levels can be disrupted by blue light from screens and devices and as low levels of melatonin can make it hard to sleep well, it’s definitely something we want to be producing a decent amount of.
When it comes to melatonin, tryptophan helps here too, as it helps our bodies make more melatonin. Chicken, turkey, milk, nuts and seeds all contain tryptophan and can help the production of melatonin. We can even go a step further than this, as walnuts actually contain melatonin, according to a study from the University of Texas.
You can read more about the relationship between sleep and health in my recent blog post.
How Food Affects Concentration
A 2013 study found that people who were drinking 2 cups of cacao every day for a month were able to improve blood flow to their brains, which led to better results in memory tests. If you’d rather not drink a cup of cacao, a square of high quality, minimum 70% cacao dark chocolate can have a similar effect as long as there aren’t high sugars or other additives.
In a 2012 report, drinking blueberry juice daily for two months also led to better performance on memory and learning tests. This means that snacking on blueberries can be perfect when we need a focus boost!
And of course, there’s always water! Dehydration can cause tiredness and concentration problems, even if we’re only slightly dehydrated. Drinking a glass of water could be all we need to get more focused, if dehydration is the problem.
Food wise, the Omega 3 fatty acids in salmon can reduce cognitive decline and keep our brains sharp and focused. Yet another good reason to eat fatty fish a couple of times per week!
Bringing It All Together
As you can see, and as I share in the Simple Swaps program, eating healthily is about so much more than numbers on a scale. Putting nutritious food into our bodies helps us become our vibrant, most fulfilled selves, and that extends to mood, sleep, concentration and many other things! Talk about motivation!
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