Your mood can affect the dietary choices you make…but can the opposite be true?
Recent scientific findings show that food can indeed alter your mood.
How can food alter my mood?
Tryptophan—an essential amino acid—is the precursor to serotonin, a calming, relaxing and mood elevating chemical in your body. A low level of serotonin is often found in people who suffer from depression.
Although tryptophan content is highest in protein-rich foods, it is the protein-poor, carbohydrate-rich foods that boost the availability of serotonin in the brain. Our bodies produce insulin when carbohydrate foods are eaten. This diverts other amino acids to our muscles but leaves tryptophan untouched in the bloodstream.
With fewer amino acids to compete with, tryptophan can enter the brain and convert into serotonin more freely. Unfortunately, the ratio of tryptophan to other amino acids decreases when you eat protein with your meal, eliminating this carbohydrate effect.
The food-depression connection
Findings from human studies indicate that individuals with a history of depression had an improved mood after consuming a protein-poor & carbohydrate-rich meal. Stress-prone individuals gained the ability to better deal with stress. In healthy individuals who were easily irritable, supplemental doses of tryptophan increased agreeableness, decreased quarrelsomeness and improved mood.
Although these effects sound promising, keep in mind that they tend to be short-term. A protein-poor & carbohydrate-rich diet is unsustainable. Further, the safety of long-term supplemental intake is questionable. More robust studies are needed in this area, but we have some clues as to the power that diet has in controlling mood.
3 Ways to naturally boost your serotonin levels
There are several ways to boost your own serotonin levels, without sacrificing a balanced diet:
- Eat low fat, low protein carbohydrate foods on an empty stomach (3 hours since you last ate).
- For example, eat your carbohydrate foods first at a meal to avoid interference from protein.
- Include more tryptophan-rich foods to your diet to boost your levels: egg whites, tofu, soybeans, fish, chicken, turkey, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, bison, elk, cottage cheese and skim mozzarella cheese.
- Don’t eat too many carbohydrates; continue to consume a well-balanced diet that is mainly unprocessed and full of nutrient-dense foods.
Are you interested in learning about other health benefits of a balanced diet? Check out Copeman’s definitive guide to