Eat well. Live well.

Mood food: Eat yourself happy this Christmas!

Posted on 11 December 2020

What you eat affects your mood

Did you know that you can improve your mood by eating certain foods? Create your own Christmas cheer by ensuring your diet has all the building blocks it needs to keep your body and your brain happy.  Serotonin is a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) that regulates mood, happiness, perception, behaviour and memory within the brain.  

Happy gut, happy brain 

Chemical messages from the billions of bacteria living in your gut (your microbiome) signal to the brain and back via serotonin and other neurotransmitters. This two-way communication is known as the gut-brain axis. These messages ensure efficient digestion and notification of bloating or pain. 

Your gut produces 95% of the serotonin in your body, so it is essential to keep your digestion happy to ensure its manufacture. In fact, an unhappy gut (with diseases, dysbiosis, pain and bloating) has been linked to anxiety and depression. People suffering from IBS commonly have low levels of serotonin. Eating unprocessed foods and lots of those wonderful green leafy vegetables will feed the beneficial bacteria, improving your digestion and your mood.  

Can I make (more of) this happy hormone?

Your gut produces 95% of the serotonin in your body.   However, its core component is tryptophan, an ‘essential acid’ that cannot be synthesized and must be obtained from food. Vitamin B6 is vital in the serotonin synthesis process, and likewise must be acquired through diet. 

A deficiency in tryptophan can lead to lower serotonin levels in the brain, and correspondingly low moods, anxiety or depression.  Chronic stress and infections can also divert tryptophan meant for serotonin production to other pathways. 

What to eat:

Tryptophan foods

Tryptophan is found in protein-rich foods, but not in particularly high levels, so it is good to combine a few sources. Furthermore, carbohydrates actually increase tryptophan levels within the brain. Therefore, eat carbohydrates in combination with the proteins below. E.g.  sweet potatoes, whole-grains (wholemeal pasta or flour), brown rice, quinoa, legumes.

  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Pineapples
  • Soy –stick to fermented, organic soy products, e.g. soy sauce or tempeh
  • Salmon
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Turkey 

Vitamin B6 foods

Generally: meats, whole grain products, vegetables, nuts and bananas. Notice the overlap in the tryptophan list!

  • Poultry: chicken or turkey
  • Fish: salmon or tuna
  • Peanuts
  • Wheatgerm
  • Oats
  • Bananas

Christmas dinner – the perfect mood-boosting meal?

Christmas dinner is an excellent example of a mood-boosting meal. Smoked salmon on (wholegrain) bread, followed by turkey, plenty of vegetables, then walnuts, cheese on oatcakes, finished with a slice of pineapple!  Just try not to eat too much in one go – leave some for leftovers ;-).

I’d love to know if you found this helpful and if you noticed an improvement in your mood. Do get in touch!

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