Healthy eating and your mood

How eating healthily can improve your mood and behaviour

Most of us are unfamiliar with the connection between health and nutrition and our mood, but what you eat can influence your brain chemistry and subsequently affect your mood. Eating healthily can drastically improve the way you feel; for example, when we are deficient in essential nutrients our nerves perform differently and we may experience mood swings and behavior changes.

Foods can affect your mood

To avoid these it is important to eat well — add this to one of realbuzz.com's exercise plans designed specifically to help you feel better about yourself, and it won't be long before people really notice a change in your mood.

Mood changes can be a result of poor food choices, overeating or following particular diets. Choosing the right nutrients can affect your daily performance, improve your mood, sharpened your mind and enhance your memory. We shouldn’t forget the power of food and how our nutrition can affect our mental and emotional health.

The foods we eat influence our brain messengers or neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine and noradrenalin). These brain messengers communicate between nerve cells and control mood, appetite, thoughts and behaviors. They generate feelings of happiness, mental alertness and calmness. As these neurotransmitters are derived from the food we eat, positive dietary modifications can regulate their levels naturally and improve your body’s response to stress — whereas an imbalance can lead to anxiety or depression.

Your brain and your mood


Serotonin is the brain messenger that is responsible for calming, relaxing and general wellbeing. An imbalance can result in some behavioural problems ranging from mild hyperactivity to violence, and low levels of serotonin can cause intense food cravings.

Serotonin is released in the brain as a result of eating simple carbohydrates and starchy foods, for example: chocolate, pastries, chips, potatoes, bread and rice. If we load up with poor quality carbohydrate, we may experience fatigue, mood swings and reduced physical activity. Therefore, if the levels of serotonin are normalised, we do not feel the need to overeat sugary and refined carbohydrate foods.

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is related to feelings of motivation and mental alertness. Dopamine is the reason why we unconsciously reach for coffee. When the body is subjected to caffeine it instantly releases dopamine; making you feel mentally alert, which is why caffeine is widely used as a mood elevator. But be warned — too much caffeine increases the level of dopamine too much and can produce symptoms such as anxiety or restlessness.

Noradrenalin is the neurotransmitter that acts as a mood elevator, increasing energy and improving performance. The substance phenylalanine has a direct affect on noradrenalin. Known as a behavior modifying drug, phenylalanine is found in coffee, soft drinks, confectionary, pastries, and chocolate. Usually, we choose to drink or eat these foods when we are feeling anxious or tired — it gives a temporary boost and helps us to concentrate. However, ingesting large quantities of phenylalanine will increase levels of noradrenalin and can result in high blood pressure, aggression and sometimes even violence.

Healthy eating and your brain


Fatty acids regulate memory and mood. The brain is made of 60 per cent fatty acids. The omega-3 types (DHA and EPA) are essential to the optimum performance of the brain. Omegas are found in oily fish, for example: mackerel, tuna, herring, salmon and sardines, as well as other foods such as avocado, olives, raw nuts and seeds, and their cold pressed oils. All these foods contain good mood stimulants and it has been discovered that levels of depression can been improved by introducing these healthy fats to your diet. Omega-3 types are excellent intelligence and memory boosters — in Japan parents have been giving their children DHA supplements to improve their grades.

Proteins provide the building blocks for most of the body’s cells, nerves and organs. Proteins manufacture neurotransmitters and are important to improve mental performance. Eating proteins with complex carbohydrates will change the brain transmitters and will provide a high level of concentration, calmness and sense of wellbeing.

Unrefined foods such as: wholegrains, free-range meats and eggs, dark fish, beans, seeds and nuts keep brain chemistry normal, whereas modern processing methods have altered many other foods. Processed or refined foods contain man-made trans fats and excessive amounts of saturated vegetable oils. These fats are a destructive source of Omega-6 and should be avoided.

Carbohydrates are the brain’s primary source of energy. Simple carbohydrates are instantly absorbed and need little digestion. They provide a quick burst of energy initially and then you feel tired. Eating too much simple carbohydrate causes an overproduction of serotonin and can drag you down.

To feel more alert and more motivated, have proteins with small amounts of healthy fats and complex carbohydrates (high in fiber and nutrients).

For stress-relief eat more whole-grain bread, pasta, rice, avocado, olives, cereals, quail, partridge, pheasant, fruits, legumes and vegetables. These foods keep mood and energy at a constant level, reducing the chances of dramatic mood swings.

Minerals are essential for the growth and functioning of the brain. Selenium (high in seafood and seaweed) can improve our mood significantly. Other sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, tuna, sunflower seeds and wholegrain cereals.

Water — the body deteriorates rapidly without water and dehydration is a common cause of tiredness, poor concentration and reduced alertness. So ensure you get your recommended eight glasses a day!

You are what you eat is not just an expression!


The University of Carolina has conducted research that shows eating poorly for an extended period of time affects the brain transmitters. Rats that were put on highly refined diets became lethargic, indifferent and withdrawn.

Other studies have shown that children who eat breakfast with protein before school, had higher scores on a given test in the morning than the children who arrive at school on an empty stomach.

Research also shows that men with consistently low levels of serotonin are more likely to engage in violent or anti-social behavior.

Positive responses from individuals who have made changes to their diet confirm the importance of nutrition in improving their emotional and mental wellbeing. After considering the healthy benefits of certain foods, you can provide all nutrients the body needs to help you focus more productively on your life, maintain your ideal weight, enhance your mood and reduce your chances of getting chronic disease.

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