Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Change Your Food, Change Your Mood

By By Lisa Cossey, LCSW, Youth First

At some point in time, I’m sure it’s safe to say we’ve all heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Recent research into food and its effects on the body and mind may have us saying, “Change your food, change your mood.”

Our brains are made of many neural pathways, neural transmitters and neural chemicals that make up and regulate our thoughts and moods daily. Serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter, makes us feel happy. When Serotonin levels drop, one may feel sad or depressed. Serotonin is directly linked with an amino acid found in food, tryptophan. Diets consisting of foods with low or no tryptophan levels, lead to serotonin depletion in the brain, which in turn leads to irritability, aggression, lowered mood and impaired memory. Diets including foods with high levels of tryptophan can provide the opposite effect and raise serotonin levels naturally. Turkey is one food that is high in tryptophan, so don’t relegate turkey to just Thanksgiving if one needs a mood boost. Ground turkey can be found in most grocery stores and easily used as a ground-beef substitute. Cottage cheese is another food high in tryptophan that could easily be included in daily meals, especially since it is packaged in convenient single servings. Skip the chips at lunch; have some cottage cheese instead.

Another way to lower the risk for depression, especially in women, is to drink coffee regularly. A National Institute of Health study tracked women over a 10-year period (1996-2006) and found women who drank coffee regularly throughout the week had lower reported depressive episodes than non-coffee-drinking women.

How about a sweet treat to go with one’s coffee? Dark chocolate has been found to increase serotonin levels naturally, leading to improved mood. Bananas can also be included on a list of foods that will decrease negative-mood-related symptoms.

Other amino acids, such as L-theanine and Omega-3, a fatty acid, minerals like magnesium and zinc, and antioxidants can reduce anxiety symptoms. Salmon is a great source of Omega-3 and can also alter one’s dopamine and serotonin levels, packing a double advantage to reduce anxiety and improve mood. Additionally, eggs have high levels of choline, which can assist with mood stability.

Dark leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard contain magnesium, which can lower anxiety. Other foods found to reduce anxiety symptoms include oysters, which are high in zinc, and Green Tea. Blueberries are another food with potential to alter one’s mood. Flavonoids, an antioxidant found in blueberries, assist in regulating mood, in addition to the other health benefits eating fresh fruit provides.

The foods listed above are not an exhaustive list; and if one is considering a major lifestyle change or has food allergies or other monitored health issues, please consult a physician and/or nutritionist. Changing one’s food, even making small changes, like eating a banana for a snack or swapping out the lettuce in a salad with dark, leafy greens, can impact overall health and mood for the better.

Cossey is the Youth First social worker at Good Shepherd and Westside Catholic schools in Evansville.