By Sue Ingebretson
Have you ever felt lonely, frustrated, annoyed, or sad and then overeaten a favorite comfort food? It’s no surprise that our moods play a role in what we choose to eat. But can the reverse also be true? Can the foods we eat play a role in our moods along with our fibromyalgia symptoms? And if so, what foods are best?
Your brain and your gut
The intestinal tract and the brain are made of the same tissue. Connected by the vagus nerve, neurotransmitters exist in both areas which are in constant communication. Emotions are felt throughout the body starting with the digestive tract.
The health of the digestive tract affects every system of the body as well as your mental health. The purpose of this article is to explore what happens to our emotions depending on what we eat. Do fast foods and packaged foods make a difference?
The answer is a definitive yes.
Studies have linked poor diet to depression and other mood disorders. These studies zero in on how, specifically, the brain reacts to these empty calorie foods. (1) There’s a cost to consuming a diet high in processed, sugary foods with artificial ingredients and low nutritional value. These foods wreak havoc with mental health, not to mention worsening fibromyalgia and chronic illness symptoms.
But if unhealthy foods can trigger depression and undesirable moods, what can healthy foods do?
The food and mood connection
Sugar plays the #1 role in creating a negative impact on mood. That’s hardly shocking. Blood sugar levels, stress, emotional eating, and food addictions are all contributed to by diets high in sugar. (2)
This connection can create a snowball effect of poor mental health symptoms. Unhealthy foods can trigger negative moods; then, negative moods can trigger poor food choices.
There’s a solution to this adverse cycle.
Healthy foods choices have the opposite effect on your emotions, thereby elevating your mood. Foods that restore intestinal flora balance are known to help with mental clarity, improved mood, and a positive outlook on life.
Here are three tips that you can implement right away. Next, add in any (or all!) of the top 10 mood foods listed below and increase your potential to develop a greater sense of wellbeing.
Hydration: Drinking adequate amounts of pure, clean filtered water is a great place to start. Are you hydrated and getting enough water to aid with proper digestion? For a handy downloadable Hydration Tip Sheet, check out this post that clarifies not only how much, but when to drink your water.
Probiotics: A good, high quality probiotic can help to reestablish healthy gut flora. Choices vary wildly and because you may have different needs than the next person, it’s a good idea to ask a health professional for recommendations. Additionally, many health food stores have qualified personnel ready to answer your specific questions. Don’t worry about getting the “perfect” probiotic. Simply do your best to purchase one that’s high quality and fits within your budget.
Eat whole, nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods: Of course, minimizing processed foods and consuming a healthy diet is essential to restoring and nourishing a healthy digestive system. Getting a healthy macronutrient balance in every meal can go a long way toward moving your health in the right direction. Create meals that have healthy proteins, healthy fats, and healthy fiber-rich carbohydrates (veggies). For more information on what to eat, check out this Fibromyalgia Diet article.
Fortunately for us, making healthy changes can help to turn things around rather quickly. Jillian Sarno Teta, ND, from PaleoHacks.com has this to say, “Research shows that diet-induced changes in the gut flora happen in as little as 72 hours.” (3)
To keep the positive benefits going, check out the following list. These foods are shown to restore intestinal balance, reduce inflammation (an underlying trigger to fibromyalgia symptoms), and, of course, improve mental health.
Top 10 Mood-Boosting Foods
When researching this topic, I was disappointed (to be honest, I was appalled) to find lists on popular medical websites of very unhealthy foods. Yes, some unhealthy foods can boost the mood on a short-term basis. But as we’ve discussed above, the long-term physical and emotional effects are simply not worth it. If you run across mood-food lists that contain processed, packaged, sugar-added foods, simply skip ‘em.
The foods included here are not only healthy, but they have proven long-term benefits for both the body and mind. While they’re listed in no particular order, let’s start with a very popular one first.
1) Dark chocolate!
Dark chocolate contains antioxidants including flavonoids as well as magnesium, potassium, copper and zinc. It has been shown to be good for brain health, heart health, and even digestive health. To learn more, check out this article, “Fibromyalgia And Chocolate: What the New Research Says.”
(TIP: To optimize the benefits of dark chocolate, investigate these four things: check to be certain that it contains natural raw cacao and not processed cocoa powder, no or very low sugar, a high quality cocoa butter (not cheap oils), and very low or no additives/preservatives.)
2) Blueberries and strawberries
Dark berries are jam-packed with natural sweetness, anti-aging antioxidants, and micro nutrients that make them a perfect option for desserts, snacks, or anytime to satisfy a sweet tooth. It’s no accident that the term jam-packed came to mind. Have you ever made strawberry chia jam? Oh yum!
Along with folic acid, asparagus is a good source of vitamin B6 which can help to raise serotonin levels. Mood elevation is just one benefit of this great detoxifying veggie. Known for its anti-bloating properties (that’s a good thing!), asparagus is also easier to digest than some crunchier veggies such as broccoli. Try asparagus in a light stir-fry, roasted, or even chopped raw into salads and other dishes.
Being my favorite fruit, I’ll have to hold my praise of the magical avocado to just a few key benefits. Of course, they provide a wonderful source of healthy monosaturated fatty acids which protect the heart, reduce inflammation, and reduce the effects of diabetes. The lipids (fatty acids) found in avocados help the body to better absorb carotenoids found in many veggies. They serve as an abundant source of folate which produces serotonin and dopamine — both connected to improved mood, better sleep, and increased energy. An abundance of fiber, potassium, and vitamins B5, B6, C, K, and E from avocados contribute to radiant skin, improved vision, lowered cholesterol levels, reduced blood pressure, reduced arthritis symptoms, and blood sugar regulation among many other benefits. (4)
5) Green leafy veggies
Spinach, kale, mustard greens, romaine, and broccoli, to name a few, are leafy veggies that contain the known mood elevating antioxidant carotenoids. You can also find carotenoids in orange fruits and veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, dried apricots, and cantaloupe. For more information on the powerful benefits of phytonutrients (including carotenoids) check out this article, “Phytonutrients Fighting for Fibromyalgia Recovery.”
Organic, free-range eggs are often viewed as one of nature’s perfect foods. Eggs have a healthy blend of a variety of both macro and micronutrients, making them a good choice to pack for lunches, snacks, or add to mealtime main dishes. Eggs serve as a source of healthy protein, calcium, thiamin, riboflavin, and more. (5) (There are those who have egg allergies or sensitivities, so be sure to monitor your own conditions.)
7) Nuts, raw
Raw nuts (un-cooked and un-seasoned) can provide a wealth of mood-boosting nutrients. They feature protein, healthy fats, and vitamin B6 which is known for its link to feeling healthier and happier. Choose walnuts, cashews, macadamia, or Brazil nuts for starters. Cashews and macadamia nuts are particularly tasty in blended smoothies, salad dressings, and dips. They provide a healthy way to achieve a dairy-free “creamy” taste and feel to foods. (Remember to avoid peanuts — which aren’t nuts at all — and to be particularly cautious if you have nut allergies or sensitivities.)
Salmon, wild-caught, is one of those foods which proves that heathy brain foods are also healthy mood foods. Salmon is rich in essential fatty acids that fuel the brain for better function and mood. It also provides a healthy dose of vitamin B12 which has been shown to combat depression. (6) Why not make a dinner of salmon and roasted asparagus a weekly treat?
Containing lauric acid and medium-chain-triglycerides (MCTs), coconut fats are uniquely rich in properties that lower anxiety, improve clarity, and are directly linked to elevated levels of happiness. (6) I don’t know about you, but that sure makes me happy. Coconut is an amazingly versatile food and it can be used in a wide variety of ways. Consider adding coconut water and/or milk to your smoothies. Add shredded or flaked, unsweetened coconut to your favorite dishes. And, of course, use coconut oil in your light cooking, added to recipes, and even in your homemade skin and hair care products.
Here’s a catchy phrase, “Turmeric — the new Prozac!” That’s the way Kelly Brogan, MD refers to it. She points out that rather than simply medicating depression, turmeric goes to work at creating balance in the body. This has a systemic effect which includes improved moods and fewer symptoms of depression. Turmeric has been shown to reduce inflammation, assist with liver detoxification, help prevent cancer, and protect the brain’s capacity to repair itself. (7) Sound good? Use the spice turmeric in your recipes — and you may also wish to add supplements that contain curcumin (an active phenol within turmeric).
You can sniff out a better mood!
While the foods and tips above can go a long way toward building a better mood, don’t forget the power of your nose! Your sense of smell is directly connected to your brain in a way that creates instantaneous mood changes.
The most efficient and effective way to gain these benefits is to use pure, non-synthetic essential oils. You may wish to experiment with these “happy” mood lifting scents.
- Citrus (lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit, etc.)
It’s important to note that essential oils have positive effects in reducing symptoms of depression. Dr. Axe’s Top 4 Essential Oils for Depression include Bergamot, Lavender, Roman Chamomile, and Ylang Ylang.
This article has given you plenty to consider when it comes to improving emotional wellness through your mealtime habits. Which tip, food, or scent will you try first?
Sue Ingebretson is the Natural Healing Editor for ProHealth.com as well as a frequent contributor to ProHealth's Fibromyalgia site. She’s an Amazon best-selling author, speaker, and workshop leader. Additionally, Sue is an Integrative Nutrition & Health Coach, a Certified Nutritional Therapist, a Master NLP Practitioner, and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. You can find out more and contact Sue at www.RebuildingWellness.com.
Would you like to find out more about the effects of STRESS on your body? Download Sue's free Is Stress Making You Sick? guide and discover your own Stress Profile by taking the surveys provided in this detailed 23-page report.