Have you recently transitioned to plant-based eating and feeling a bit off? Maybe you’re moody or feeling down or just not feeling like yourself. Well, it might not be you…it might be what you’re eating or not eating.
There’s no question that what you eat can affect how you feel, right? Mental health and brain health are complex. And so are the foods we eat, and the ways our bodies interact with those foods. While, we don't know the exact mechanisms how food and nutrition help, we know a few ways food impacts our moods.
First, what we eat becomes the raw materials for our neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are biochemical messengers that allow our nerve cells to communicate (ever heard of serotonin?). They are important not just for thinking and memory, but also for mental health.
Second, what we eat affects our blood sugar. And having unstable blood sugar levels can contribute to mood swings. So let’s talk about mood-boosting and mood-busting foods.
Did you know that some nutrient deficiencies can look like mental health problems? This includes deficiencies in B-vitamins, vitamin D, and the mineral selenium. So, getting enough vitamins, minerals, (and other things like antioxidants) are key. These nutrients not only reduce inflammation but also fuel the biochemical reactions in our bodies. Including those that create neurotransmitters. So make sure you're eating a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. In fact, studies show that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables are the happiest.
But as a plant-powered person, you also need to pay special attention to vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin), as it’s not naturally occurring in too many foods. But did you know that most vitamin D isn’t vegan? Sorry folks, but most of it comes from lanolin from sheep’s wool. But you can find vegan one’s made from lichen.
Selenium is an essential mineral found in Brazil nuts and walnuts. Try to add some of those to your weekly diet. One Brazil nut a day will give you enough Selenium so don’t over do it.
Second, make sure you get enough protein. Protein is your body's main supply of amino acids. Amino acids are very important for mood issues because they are the building blocks of neurotransmitters. Protein also helps to regulate blood sugar. I recommend eating protein with every meal; this includes dark green leafy vegetables, tofu, tempeh, beans & pulses, seitan, chia and hemp hearts. Or try some of the amazing vegan protein powders out there for some quick added protein.
Third, complex carbohydrates like sweet potato and quinoa are great too. They allow better absorption of key amino acids like tryptophan. Tryptophan is used by your body to make serotonin (your “happy hormone”) and melatonin (your “sleepy” hormone). So, if you want to relax, try these in the evening.
Fourth, Omega-3 fatty acids (nuts, seeds, and algae) are also mood-boosting. Omega-3s are definitely “brain food” and may help to ease some symptoms. No most omega-3 supplements come from cold water fish. Have you ever had to choke back some nasty fish oil or get those repeating fishy burps from capsules? Well, the good news is there are vegan omega-3 supplements out there now! Look for Algal oil and add in flax, chia, hemp and walnuts to your daily routine.
Last but not least, make sure you’re hydrated. Mild dehydration can cause mood issues as well. So make sure you’re drinking 6-8 glasses of H20 every day.
You won’t be surprised to hear me say processed foods are mood-busters, right? One study suggests that eating a lot of processed foods devoid of nutrients can increase your chances of becoming depressed by as much as 60 percent! This is on top of the research that shows nutrient deficiencies can look like mental health problems.
“But it makes me feel good!”
Yes, some of these mood busters can make you feel better temporarily. Some big food companies study how to maximize the pleasure centers with the perfect amount of sugar, salt, and fat. Not to mention the color, texture, and taste; they can light up our taste buds and make us feel good… for now.
A few other things to avoid are:
Alcohol (nervous system depressant)
Caffeine (may worsen anxious feelings and ability to sleep)
Sugar (messes with your blood sugar and can worsen inflammation).
Bad moods can lead to bad eating habits and bad eating habits can lead to bad moods. If you need a mood boost, stick to minimally processed nutrient-dense whole foods. Things like fresh fruit and vegetables (including leafy greens), nuts and seeds and plant-based proteins. And try to avoid common mood-busting foods like alcohol, caffeine, and sugar.
Remember, those “feel good” junk foods, only make you feel good temporarily. So, try my newest recipe for fruit salad instead.
Mood Boosting Fruit Salad
1-2 cups watermelon, cubed
1-2 cups cantaloupe, cubed
1-2 cups blueberries, fresh
1-2 cups blackberries, fresh
1-2 cups green grapes
Place all fruit in a large bowl and gently toss.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Substitute or add any ready-to-eat fruit, like chopped peaches, or raspberries.