What we eat effects more than our waistline; it can have a serious effect on our mood, and I’m not just talking about the food guilt that comes with finishing off an oversized bag of chips.
“Serotonin is the antidepressant neurotransmitter,” said Nikki Ostrower, founder of NAO Nutrition. “It increases feelings of well-being, peacefulness, optimism, self esteem, relaxation and security. High-protein diets that severely limit carbohydrates, such as the Atkins diet, can deplete serotonin levels in the brain, which can lead to irritability, depression, rigidity and hopelessness.”
Similarly, dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for raising energy, assertiveness, alertness and feelings of optimism. “Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine and phenylalanine, found in protein foods such as meat, fish and eggs.” Eating a high-protein meal will boost dopamine levels within 30 minutes.
As you start to think about revamping your diet in 2016, think about noshing on foods that make you healthy and happy. It’s a win-win. Ostrower helped me draft your perfect grocery list and gave you one more reason to lay off those greasy potato chips.
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Foods That Raise Dopamine
Get ready for the best news ever. “Dark Chocolate contains anandamide, which will improve your mood and act as a stimulant,” Ostrower said. “Chocolate also boosts endorphins and it contains flavanols, which help to improve cognitive ability and your circulation and lower your blood pressure, thereby promoting relaxation and contentment.” Other options that will have the same effect are green tea and high-protein foods like meat, fish and eggs.
Foods That Raise Serotonin
In order to encourage balanced serotonin levels, it’s essential to consume adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Consuming frequent, small meals is also helpful. “By consuming complex carbs, complete with fiber, vitamins and minerals, you will ensure steady blood sugar and provide the carbohydrates necessary for serotonin production,” Ostrower said. “A complex carbohydrate snack, such as fruit or brown rice, will provide a soothing effect to the brain.” She suggests trying a quinoa bowl: simply mix quinoa with your favorite protein and cut up veggies.
“The acid/alkaline balance of your blood has a huge effect on your energy level: the more acid in your blood, the more fatigued you will be due to diminished oxygen supply,” Ostrower said. Acid-forming foods include grains, dairy, sugar and coffee. Instead, opt for alkaline-forming foods like vegetables and fruits. For an easy way to keep your body alkaline all day long, Ostrower advises adding lemon to water and drinking it throughout the day.
Rich in tyrosine, the amino acid that is the building block of dopamine, protein-rich foods such as wild fish, organic meats and eggs, can help improve alertness and memory according to Ostrower. She suggests buying pastured eggs and eating the whole thing. “Not only are they a fantastic source of protein, they are also rich in Omega 3s, which boost happiness,” she said.
“Probiotic foods such as kefir, kimchi, miso and sauerkraut can help establish a healthy inner-eco system, which is necessary for making available and manufacturing the nutrients which are responsible for brain, cell and organ health,” Ostrower said. “Beneficial microflora also neutralize toxins and combat yeast infections. Toxins and yeast can cause ‘brain’ fog, irritability and depression. When your gut is thriving it promotes an overall sense of well-being, happiness and focus. Try some crunchy lacto-fermented sauerkraut by Farmhouse Cultures. “
Healing Remedies and Herbs
Umeboshi plum is a fermented Japanese plum. It’s highly alkaline and also has antibiotic properties, according to Ostrower, who says she uses it to treat fatigue, colds, flu, viruses and overindulgence from alcohol or heavy foods. “Another favorite is apple cider vinegar,” she said. “It assists with digestion and helps to reduce blood sugar levels. It’s detoxifying and helps relieve liver congestion, mental depression and fatigue.”
“Fats are crucial for stabilizing blood sugar levels, which is key for your emotional state of well-being,” Ostrower said. “Blood sugar spikes or deficits impact your energy levels, which directly effect your mood and your ability to handle stress.” By consuming healthy fats you will ensure steady blood sugar. In addition, Ostrower explains that they provide a sense of calming satiety, which helps to eliminate cravings. Olive oil, butter and coconut oil are the best choices for cooking as these help to maintain proper fatty acid balance.
Omega 3 fats are also essential for boosting energy and their depletion can cause depression, ADHD and Post Partum Depression. With that in mind, Ostrower recommends adding foods such as wild salmon, sardines, pastured eggs, mackerel, halibut and anchovies to your diet. One of her favorite healthy dinners is wild salmon with roasted Brussel sprouts in coconut oil.
Watch out for:
“The optimal ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids is 1-to-1,” explained Ostrower. “Unfortunately, the over-consumption of products made with grain/seed oils such as corn, safflower and hydrogenated oils along with grain-fed meat and fish has pushed the ratio to 25-to-1.” This is problematic according to the nutritionist because when out of balance, Omega 6 oils can cause excess inflammation, cell rigidity and cell degeneration throughout the body. The Omega 6 oils also take the place of Omega 3 oils in the brain cells, causing inflammation of the brain. “This inflammation can lead to disruption of neurotransmitters, contributing to depression, Parkinson’s, bi-polar disease and obsessive-compulsive disorder,” she said.
Sweet tooths beware: refined carbohydrates, found in most dessert foods, can cause blood sugar swings, weight gain and adrenal fatigue. “Due to their low-nutrient value, refined carbohydrates promote scavenging of minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which are crucial for emotional well-being,” Ostrower said. Limit your intake to the occasional treat. Satisfy your craving for something sweet with a fruit like an apple. It doesn’t sound as fun, but give it a try.
Found in wheat, barley, rye and oats, gluten can cause irritation and damage to intestinal lining of those who are allergic. Ostrower also warns that it’s highly addictive because of the endorphins, which are released to comfort an irritated intestinal lining. “Symptoms of gluten intolerance include bloating, bowel problems, irritability and addiction to gluten products,” she said.