Published on: January 14, 2015
by Brendan Brazier for U.S. News:
Your brain is a complex network of nerves and chemical signals that depends on important macro- and micronutrients to function properly. Lack of specific nutrients, such as amino acids and selenium, affects brain chemistry, impacting mood, memory and cognitive function. On the other hand, eating more of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins, coupled with moving more, will literally feed your brain and positively support a healthy mood balance.
Foods That Support Mood
Tryptophan and tyrosine. The neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine are associated with sleep, mood regulation, pleasure and motivation. The amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine are precursors to these “feel-good” hormones. You can find tryptophan in sacha inchi seeds, sesame seeds and spirulina; tyrosine in seaweed, almonds and avocados.
B vitamins. All B vitamins, but especially B6, B12 and folate, are critical for optimal brain function. Not only do they help convert the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, but deficiencies in B vitamins have been associated with depression. Whole grains, leafy greens and most fruits are sources of B vitamins. Plant-based vitamin B12 can be found in spirulina, nutritional yeasts or supplements.
Selenium. If you are deficient in selenium, you’re likely irritable, anxious or depressed. That’s because selenium is a powerful antioxidant that plays a role in hormone synthesis, particularly of the thyroid. Selenium is found in mushrooms, sunflower seeds, brown rice, Brazil nuts and walnuts.
Omega-3s. Did you know your brain is 60 percent fat? That’s because fat is needed for proper cellular communication between neurotransmitters. Omega-3s are essential unsaturated fats that are particularly helpful for brain health. Plant-based sources of omega-3s include flaxseeds, chia and hemp seeds.
Nutrient Timing and Mood
Besides just avoiding being hangry (so hungry you’re angry), when and what you eat can also affect your mood. Have you noticed that when you eat a food that is high in sugar, you have a spike in energy, and then too soon, a crash? That sugar crash will leave you low on energy and very cranky. As often as possible, reach for meals and snacks that are full of satisfying low-glycemic foods to balance out blood sugar. Look for whole grains, plant-based proteins and fats to avoid the sugar crash. Eating low-glycemic foods closer to bed time will also give you a deeper sleep than choosing a high-glycemic snack.
Exercise and Mood
The mood-boosting benefits of exercise have long been known to endurance athletes. But anyone who moves can get a taste of the “runner’s high.” Your body rewards exercise by releasing endorphins – the feel-good hormone. Exercise has also shown to be very effective at improving symptoms of mental health disorders such as anxiety and clinical depression. Studies support that there is a significant increase in positive mood and creative thought after exercise. It’s important to find an activity you love to do, and do it regularly to support a healthy mood.
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