Doctors and scientists are examining the connections between the foods we eat and our energy and mood. There is scientific evidence to support the fact that dietary changes can have a positive impact on brain chemistry and metabolism, leading to improvements in mood and energy level.
Foods increase our energy because they are a source of calories or because they stimulate the body to burn fuel more efficiently. Some foods contain caffeine that also delivers an energy boost. The best foods to maintain a good mood are those that contribute to steady blood sugar levels and stimulate secretion of substances that positively affect mood. The following slides will discuss some of these mood-boosting foods.
Although many dieters avoid carbs, they play an important role in promoting a good mood and delivering energy. Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source for the body, and they raise levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that improves and stabilizes the mood. However, not all types of carbs are mood-boosters. Sweets tend to cause rapid spikes - and then drops - in blood sugar, leading to tiredness and bad moods. Whole grain carbs such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and cereal are absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream, promoting stable blood sugar and energy levels.
Low levels of magnesium can negatively affect your energy level. Magnesium is important for the body to convert dietary sugars into energy. Cashews, almonds, and hazelnuts are good sources of protein and magnesium. Other foods high in magnesium are whole grains (especially bran cereals) and certain fish, such as halibut.
Low levels of the mineral selenium have also been associated with poorer moods. Brazil nuts are a good source of dietary selenium, and smaller amounts of this mineral are found in seafood, meats, whole grains, and beans. But be aware: too much selenium is harmful.
The amino acid tyrosine increases levels of two brain chemicals, norepinephrine and dopamine, that can increase alertness and focus. Lean meats (pork, beef, turkey, and skinless chicken) are protein foods that contain tyrosine. These meats also contain vitamin B12, which may act to relieve depression and insomnia.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, is heart-healthy due to its omega-3-fatty acid content. The healthy fat content may also decrease the risk of depression. Nuts and dark green leafy vegetables are other sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Folate, found in leafy green vegetables, may also help protect against depression. Other sources of dietary folate include citrus fruits, legumes, and nuts.
Many people have diets deficient in fiber. Fiber can help keep your energy levels constant during the day. Dietary sources of fiber include beans, whole grains, vegetables, and whole fruits.
Even mild dehydration may have negative effects on your health, such as decreasing metabolism and draining energy. Stay hydrated all day by drinking plenty of water or unsweetened drinks.
Consuming fresh vegetables and fruits is another way to stay hydrated and keep your energy levels high. Fresh fruits and veggies are high in water content and can be filling snacks. Oatmeal and pasta are other foods high in water content, since they absorb their cooking water.
Although it's a temporary fix, caffeine offers a short-term energy boost, improving concentration and energy levels. Frequent small servings of caffeine work better than one large dose to keep energy levels high. Consuming too much caffeine, however, can make it difficult to get adequate sleep, further draining energy levels.
Having a cup of tea is a known relaxation ritual, and it also provides a dose of caffeine. There is evidence to show that caffeine may improve your alertness, memory, and reaction time.
Chocolate also contains caffeine, and a stimulant chemical called theobromine is also present in chocolate. Try a small snack of dark chocolate for a mood-boosting break.
People who regularly eat breakfast have a better mood during the day than those who skip this important meal. A healthy breakfast contains fiber and nutrients and is made up of a combination of good fats, whole-grain carbohydrates, and lean protein.
Eating small meals or snacks every 3-4 hours results in a more constant energy level and mood than the consumption of a few large meals. Ideas for small healthy meals include half a turkey sandwich with salad, whole-grain cereal and milk, or peanut butter with whole-grain crackers.
Energy supplements such as kola nut, yerba mate, guarana, and green tea extract probably have an effect similar to that of a cup of coffee, since many so-called energy supplements contain caffeine or similar chemicals.
Energy drinks and gels may be helpful for those taking part in high-intensity physical activity but probably aren't needed by most people. They are usually high in calories and contain simple carbohydrates (sugar) and few nutrients.
Exercise is another natural mood-booster. The more active you are, the greater the benefit to your emotional health. Evidence shows that exercise may relieve depression and contribute to an enhanced energy level throughout the day.
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- AHA: "Food and Mood." Jun. 25, 2018.
- Psychiatry Res: " The association between diet and mood: A systematic review of current literature." Jan. 2019.
- Curr Nutr Rep: " Food and Mood: the Corresponsive Effect." Sept. 9, 2020.