Contributor: Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD
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Don’t let dreary weather or dashed hopes dampen your spirits. A healthy meal with great ingredients can put you in a great mood.
That’s because certain foods are key components in the manufacture of powerful chemicals in the brain. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, can boost mood, improve sleep, increase pain tolerance and enhance performance.
4 brain chemicals that influence mood
Four chemicals directly impact mood and are present in higher concentrations after meals than between meals:
- Serotonin, released after eating carbs (sugars and starches). This “feel-good” chemical enhances calm, improves outlook and lessens depression. The key is to consume complex carbohydrates (whole grains, beans and vegetables) and not simple carbohydrates (cookies, candy, etc.). “Simple carbohydrates give you a quick burst of energy because they increase blood sugar,” says Ms. Jamieson-Petonic. ” But that burst doesn’t last long. Complex carbohydrates provide a longer-lasting effect.”
- Dopamine and norepinephrine, released after eating protein (meats, poultry, dairy and legumes). These chemicals work together to increase your energy level, enhance your concentration and make you more alert. “Choose lean proteins, which are not only better for your heart but also are easier to digest. They won’t leave you feeling weighed down like fried or high-fat food choices,” she says.
- Acetylcholine, produced from a B vitamin called choline found in wheat germ and eggs. This chemical is believed to influence learning, memory and mood.
The ideal meal
The best meal to enhance your mood is one that combines complex carbohydrates with lean proteins, such as:
- Tuna on 100% whole wheat bread.
- A turkey meatball with whole grain pasta and red sauce.
- A lean piece of beef with brown rice and vegetables.
“Vegetarians can opt for soy or quinoa,” says Ms. Jamieson-Petonic. “These are both complete plant proteins that offer all the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) you need.”
Foods that spoil your mood
Meanwhile, avoid foods that may taste good at first but won’t leave you feeling your best:
- Lunchmeat submarine sandwich on white. “The white roll will reduce serotonin levels and leave you feeling drained, and the tidal wave of salt from the lunchmeats will make you tired and bloated,” says Ms. Jamieson-Petonic.
- Bag of chips, bottle of regular soda and a cookie. “I’ve seen folks buy this for lunch,” she says. “The chips are high in saturated fat (which tends to increase inflammation inside blood vessels) and low in serotonin. And tons of added sugars in the soda and cookie will trigger a protein cascade that will leave you feeling low, low down.”
- Fried fish sandwich with french fries. “Fish is normally a “feel-good” food, but not when it’s coated with white flour and deep-fried in a vat of oil,” says Ms. Jamieson-Petonic. “Both the fish and fries are high in fat and sodium, which will zap your mood quicker than a dreary day.”
If you’ll be making changes in your diet, be patient. It may take two to three weeks to see an improvement in your mood.