Mood and food

Hi all!

During our weekly nutrition segment, nutritionist Christelle Bedrossian discussed comfort foods and to be more specific, how your diet affects your mood.

Comfort food is food that has a nostalgic or sentimental appeal. It may be consumed to positively pique emotions or to relieve negative psychological feelings. Consumption of comfort food is triggered in men by positive emotions and by negative ones in women.

  1. Is there some kind of food that can help you feel better?There are some kind of foods that will make you feel better by increasing the level of serotonin. Serotonin is the hormone responsible for making you feel happy and for the regulation of your mood. Low serotonin levels may cause depression, anxiety or even insomnia. Some antidepressant drugs increase serotonin activity. Luckily there are some natural ways that help increase serotonin levels; eating. Serotonin itself isn’t in food. Serotonin is made from the amino acid, tryptophan. Tryptophan derived from food is converted to serotonin. Serotonin production is sensitive to the supply of tryptophan in the diet and depend on nutrients that will help the conversion.
  2. What are these foods?The comfort foods that are healthy are:• Protein rich tryptophan: proteins do not directly increase serotonin levels but what happens is that the intake of proteins provides the body with amino acids like tryptophan which is then synthesized to form serotonin. Turkey, fish, chicken, nuts, cheese, eggs, soy foods and beans all contain generous levels of tryptophan.  Yet relying solely on protein can slow down serotonin production. Though scientists aren’t sure why this is, it makes sense that subsisting entirely on one macro-nutrient might cause problems for brain chemistry. Tryptophan works best when consumed in conjunction with a small bit of carbohydrate.
    • Complex carbohydrates: can help in increasing your serotonin levels. The advantage of complex carbohydrates over normal sugars is that their effect lasts longer. Choose whole grain or brown bread, pasta, cereals, rice, potato, corn, carrots, apples, bananas, pineapple and plums. These complex carbohydrates are essential. After you consume carbohydrates, your body releases insulin to counteract the ingested sugar. This process facilitates the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin. Therefore, the presence of carbohydrates in your body not only improves your mood by giving you a quick surge of energy, it effectively triggers the conversion of tryptophan and the release of serotonin.

    • Omega3: an essential fatty acid, w3 found in fish oil can trigger serotonin production. They play a vital role in brain health and mood regulation: take it from supplements of from food fish oils found in mackerel, salmon, sardine and tuna.

    • Vitamin B especially B6 and B9: Vitamin B6, found in abundance in leafy green vegetables, fish, poultry and whole grains helps elevate serotonin to “feel good” levels. Not consuming enough vitamin b9 or folate-rich foods can also decrease the amount of serotonin in your brain.

    • Minerals: Food sources that help with serotonin production are calcium and magnesium. Consume plenty of magnesium-rich foods, such as seafood, whole grain bread, nuts such as almonds, oatmeal and soybeans.

  3. Is there any unhealthy food that can boost and make us feel better?Yes, there are unhealthy choices that can boost our mood but temporarily and this can be misleading.• Sweets, sugar and chocolate: Sweets and chocolate contain sugars that can help your body increase the serotonin levels. That’s why you may find yourself feeling better after eating a chocolate. However simple sugars are a quick fix but they do nothing to stimulate ongoing production of serotonin.

    • Avoid the stimulant cycle: Many of us get trapped in the stimulant cycle; caffeine, alcohol and tobacco. These substances temporarily give you a lift, but actually deplete and blunt valuable hormones. Alcohol is a depressant and influences the body’s production of serotonin. It lowers tryptophan levels in the body, therefore lowering the body’s serotonin production. Excess caffeine intake interferes with the body’s production of serotonin. Foods that contain caffeine include chocolate, tea, coffee and soda. If you like caffeine, try to limit your java intake to one or two cups a day at the most.

  4. Should I depend on food to make myself happy?Such a habit will result in accumulating your real problems and you will end up depressed, especially if you are choosing unhealthy foods. Eating chocolate and sweets whenever you are stressed will make you gain weight and increase your guiltiness. Studies revealed strong connections between consumption of comfort foods and feelings of guilt. Even healthy choices, if eaten in a higher quantity, will make you gain weight because you are consuming more calories. It is a habit and you can change it. Comfort food consumption has been seen as a response to emotional stress, and consequently, as a key contributor to the epidemic of obesity.
  5. What can we do other than rely on food or what can influence our mood?• Exercise to feel good: Exercise is a natural stimulator of many important “mood” hormones, including serotonin and dopamine. Don’t think of exercise as a chore to lose weight or prevent heart disease. Realize that 15 or 20 minutes of exercise every day will naturally release these feel-good hormones that are so vital to feeling happy and calm. Exercise is about feeling good, not just looking good.•  Sleep right: When we’re feeling down, it’s tempting to sleep, sleep and sleep some more. But quality sleep is far more important than quantity. Force yourself to get up early, but allow for a rejuvenating nap midday if you need it. The same goes for stressed-out workaholics getting by on 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night. Find a way to get an extra hour.

    • Reduce stress: Long-term stress depletes serotonin levels and can deplete the body of magnesium, which may cause additional anxiety.  So reduce stress–this can be as simple as adding exercise and meditation or as life changing as choosing to eliminate some tasks.

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is a key to emotional and physical health.


Helwi El Hayet

Follow us on Twitter: @HelwiElHayet


About helwielhayet

Helwi el-Hayet discusses your favorite topics every week day at 4:30 p.m. Beirut time. From fashion to psychology to books to art to nutrition to cooking and coaching (and much, much more), Helwi el-Hayet is here to shed light on the latest trends and to share with you reports, interviews and recipes from Lebanon and the region!
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