As promised, this week we will be discussing more on the food-mood connection. Last time I introduced you a bit to how foods can affect mood, and what we can do to correct such issues based on some nutrition. This week, we will go more in depth. Some things we will go over are amino acids, sugar, gluten, food additives, and gut health. Please do keep in mind that this blog (parts 1 and 2) is by no means a complete look at food and how it affects mood. It is a good start, though…and if you are interested in more, you can go to the various references listed at the ends of part 1 and 2.
Let’s get into it, shall we?
Amino Acids: Amino acids are molecules that are critical to life and are the building blocks of protein. Some amino acids are even considered precursors to neurotransmitters (Curtin, 2011). They have many functions in metabolism and energy. The central nervous system needs amino acids to function, and the brain needs them to send and receive messages. We all require amino acids in proper levels for each individual in order to function in a healthful manner. Some neurotransmitters include dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, GABA, norepinephrine, and endorphins. These should be balanced for a healthy mood. Many times, if they are not, we may experience mood swings, shifts, or changes. Since the amino acids are precursors or building blocks of these neurotransmitters, it is essential that we have balanced amino acids too. These amino acids come from protein-rich whole foods. That means we need things like meat, eggs, and some nuts (if you are not sensitive to eggs or nuts…not peanuts, though…those are not nuts, they are legumes). Getting good sources of protein will build amino acids in balance, thus affecting mood. Now, I want to also be clear here…meats in any form (chicken, fish, beef, pork, etc.) should really be those raised on their natural diets…in other words, you want chicken and their eggs that have been raised as free-range peckers, beef raised on grass and grazing, wild-caught fish, and the like. The conventional types of these products will not be as nutrient-rich, and may even contain things that will affect the balance and health of the animal…and therefore, the balance and health of you! Of course, I’m not saying not to eat these conventional things either…but if you do have the option, you should consider how much healthier the natural diet animals would have been…and purchase those first!
So, what happens if amino acids are not in balance? Well, any number of pathways can be affected, hence affecting your mood. You could be depressed, anxious, have cravings, be moody, have attention problems, or just feel cruddy. Since amino acids affect so many neurotransmitters, all you have to do is look at what those transmitters do in psychological terms to know what might happen if the pathways are affected.
Okay, before we move on, let’s look at some of the amino acids that are important in this food-mood connection:
L-tryptophan (5-HTP): This commonly mentioned amino acid is important in the production of serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that seems to control sleep, memory, learning, sexual behavior, appetite control, depression, temperature regulation, anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia, hypertension, obesity, and more (Byrd, 1999). You might see how L-tryptophan levels do have an importance in mood since they affect the serotonin in the body. If you are not eating foods that provide you with good L-tryptophan, you may well be deficient…thus experiencing problems with mood. Up these whole foods, and you can help up your L-tryptophan:
Turkey, tuna, other fish, beef, pork, eggs, chicken, sesame seeds, hazelnuts, and cottage cheese. Now, keep in mind your food sensitivities…and eat whole foods of this kind with that in mind, and you may find your mood changing for the better!
L-tyrosine and its precursor Phenylalanine: L-tyrosine sometimes fails to metabolize Phenylalanine. In this case, it is needed in order to control the decline of cognitive issues, seizures, and even retardation. You can see that this amino acid might very well play a role in mood affected by decline in cognition. Find L-tyrosine in these whole foods:
Avocados, fish, chicken, and almonds
Glutamine: This one is the precursor to GABA. It increases GABA, thus having a calming effect. We can then concentrate and experience less stress-increasing our ability to be in better moods! It also seems to improve memory!
These are just a few of the many amino acids that will help improve mood if balanced in the system. I could do an entire post on them…but I need to cover some other things!
Sugar: This one is an obvious one. Of course we all know that sugar affects mood…we’ve seen how sugar addiction is so pronounced these days, in our kids and adults. So, if you remove sugar (and include things that turn into sugar in this category…refined carbohydrates, grains, potatoes, etc), you should see a vast improvement in mood!
I apologize for keeping the rest of these so short. I would like to discuss them further if you would like to hear more…but it will need to be broken up again! So, moving on…
Gluten: You may well be gluten sensitive. While the statistics generally say that Celiac Disease (an autoimmune disorder due to extreme sensitivity to gluten that has inflammatory and other major health consequences) does not affect much of the population, what they don’t say is that gluten sensitivity is much larger in its affect. In fact, many people may be gluten-intolerant or gluten sensitive and not even know it. The reactions can be astronomical. Gluten definitely irritates the human body, and thus can even affect those neurotransmitters and the gut-brain connection. Remove grains and starches from the diet, eat whole foods like meat and green vegetables, and you will automatically remove the gluten. It is not needed, and removing it will make you feel better physically and mentally!
Food Additives: If you are eating processed foods, you might experience some mood issues. Not only are these foods loaded with chemicals and other bad-for-us things, but they can affect the brain. Many of these chemicals in processed foods are known as food additives. These include dyes, preservatives, artificial flavors, and more. These additives can be neurotoxins…which is to say that they are toxic to your neurotransmitters, brain, and the whole system! These chemicals can also alter the hormones, resulting in hormonal changes that will affect mood, slimming ability, and more. Of course, I must also add that you should really pay attention to the “clean 15 and dirty dozen” lists that the Environmental Working Group puts out regularly. If you buy the dirty dozen in an organic manner, you will reduce your risk of eating GMO or pesticide-treated foods. This way, you can save money and save your health at the same time!
Gut Health: I included this because I think it is so important to point you all toward some interesting research and writing about how the gut and brain really do communicate with one another in a manner we never knew! The gut is EXTREMELY important in our physical and psychological health. In fact, with a healthy gut, things like ADHD, ADD, depression, dyslexia, and schizophrenia may truly disappear! I encourage you to really study this, because there is a lot to it…the best resource is Natasha Campbell-McBride’s G.A.P.S. diet. You can read all about it here: http://www.gutandpsychologysyndrome.com/gaps-diet/
Although I did not go into it, I STRONGLY recommend people pay a lot of attention to getting their guts healthy. It is probably the biggest issue, and one we can absolutely correct through nutrition. The above mentioned program and book will give it to you in great detail that is needed! I just want to say that if you remove grains, add some Omega-3s to balance those Omegas out, and eat whole foods and probiotics (fermented foods like sauerkraut or kombucha), you will find gut health is better and so is mental health!
Thanks and have a healthy day!
Byrd, A. (1999). Serotonin and its uses. Retrieved from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro99/web1/Byrd.html
Curtin, J. (2011). Why we crave: Understanding and overcoming food addictions. Wise Traditions In Food, Farming, and The Healing Arts, 12(2).
GAPS diet info:
Sugar and Carb info sites:
Psychology and Nutrition: