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Guest Article

Food Equals Mood

By: Lesley B. Klein MS, RDN, LDN
Clinical Nutrition Manager of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

When someone decides to begin a healthy diet, their motivation is usually linked to things like weight management, heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. But keep in mind that diet plays a major role in "brain health" too. Your brain is responsible for thoughts, movements, breathing, heartbeats, and your senses. Think of your brain as an expensive car. It functions best on premium fuel. When you provide "low-grade" fuel like processed or refined foods, they can cause damage, leading to issues like regulating insulin, increased inflammation and even mood disorders like depression.

In a randomized control study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, symptoms of depression dropped significantly among the group following a Mediterranean Diet Plan. The Mediterranean Diet leans more towards a plant-based diet, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, herbs, spices, fish, seafood, and heart healthy fats. Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt are eaten in moderation. There is preliminary evidence suggesting gut microbiome can affect brain function by altering levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is synthesized by gut bacteria. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that acts as a mood stabilizer. It's commonly linked to feeling good.

Supplements can also increase serotonin levels by synthesizing it from the amino acid tryptophan. You should never take supplements without first consulting with your health care provider. However, a more natural approach to potentially increasing serotonin levels is eating good quality foods that contain both tryptophan and fiber. 

Try adding some of these unprocessed foods to your diet. Eggs, cheese, pineapple, tofu, salmon, nuts, seeds, and poultry are but a few that are rich in tryptophan.  But tryptophan alone won't boost serotonin levels.  The secret is mixing healthy carbohydrates with tryptophan-rich foods. Since carbs trigger the body to release more insulin, they can promote absorption of some of the other amino acids, leaving the tryptophan in the blood. They also contribute fiber to help fuel healthy gut bacteria. So, if you combine high-tryptophan foods with fiber-rich carbohydrates, you might get a serotonin boost. Examples would include rolled oats with seeds or nuts mixed in, whole grain bread or crackers with small amounts of cheese, or grilled salmon with brown rice. 

If you are interested in lifting your mood, why not give the Mediterranean Diet a try? It embraces less processed foods that are rich in fiber, tryptophan, and antioxidants. Who knows, maybe it will help you to "put on a happy face!"

Click here for more information on the Mediterranean Diet.


 Click here to read the full Mind and Matter Fall Edition.