What to Eat: The Good-Mood Foods

If you’ve eaten a gooey candy bar to cheer yourself up or chomped through a bag of chips to calm your nerves, you know what happens after the mood-lift fades: bellyache, plus a sugar crash or a sheen of grease on your face.

Candy bars and potato chips feel good in the moment—they’re engineered to do exactly that—but in the end they usually just make us feel worse. The good news is that there’s a whole different set of foods out there that can lift and calm your mood in the long run.

A Quick Caveat

In this article, we’re referring to moods that generally are responses to the events of daily life. If you experience depression or anxiety most of the day for days on end, tell your doctor or a mental health professional. What you eat will still be important, but other therapies might also be needed.  

Well-Being Starts in the Gut

Your mood can be affected by your thoughts, it’s true, but the gut has a lot to say about your outlook on life, too. 

The gut’s overarching job is to support your general well-being by drawing water, vitamins, proteins, and useful fats from all the food that passes through, then sending them throughout the body to nourish every cell. These nutrients are abundant in diverse, colorful foods such those that make up the Mediterranean diet. In a diet of highly processed foods, they’re scarce. Relying on a processed-food diet can lead to diabetes and obesity, and research has found a correlation of both with depression.

Nutrient extraction is accomplished by the gut “microbiome.” Living in and on the human body are 100 trillion microbes—viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other one- and two-celled organisms. These cooperating or competing organisms live mostly in the gut, particularly the colon. Poor diet can throw the mixture off-balance, with unhealthy effects. This imbalance can damage the colon itself, allowing toxins to leak out. It can also play havoc with other parts of the body.

Science is just starting to make sense of the microbiome, as well as what’s cause and what’s effect in its relationship to other body processes. However, it is becoming clear that the gut microbiome is connected to issues such as obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis—and mood.

A Few of the Gut Microbiome’s Specialties

Hosting several thousand species of microbes, the gut performs countless specific functions. Here are a few connected with mood:

Producing Serotonin

The gut microbiome produces 95 percent of the body’s serotonin, one of the “happiness hormones.” Serotonin is best known in that role, although it’s also involved in processes such as keeping food moving through the intestines. The brain produces some serotonin of its own, but there are neurons that reach from the brain all the way to the intestines, and serotonin can signal in both directions. 

Releasing Sugar into the Bloodstream

The complex carbohydrates in foods such as beans and whole grains are better for the body than the simple carbs of a hamburger bun. Gut microbes process carbs into glucose, a type of sugar. Simple carbs are easy to digest, so glucose production is fast, and this leads to a spike in blood sugar—the quick mood lift of a candy bar. A sudden drop inevitably follows, accentuating the “down.”

Putting Fiber to Good Use

Healthy-eating advice almost always emphasizes the importance of fiber (plant parts that don’t completely digest, instead passing out of the body). Fiber slows the release of glucose (again limiting blood sugar spikes), and helps prevent constipation and diarrhea. 

When you eat fiber, your gut microbes get to work fermenting it. The fermentation, in turn, releases short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Intestinal cells use SCFAs for energy, to absorb minerals, and to calm inflammation. There may be a more obscure benefit, too: In a diminished or anxious mood, a person might eat as a reward for just getting through the day. SCFAs have been seen to lessen that response.

Foods for Good Mood

The take-away: Foods that are good for the gut are good for your mood. Be good to your gut, and the world becomes a brighter place.

Here are some foods your gut will turn into mood-enhancing nutrition. If you have a health condition such as diabetes or colitis that requires specific dietary restrictions, adjust this list accordingly.

  • A rainbow of fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits
  • Peas, beans, and lentils
  • Whole grains, as ingredients or separate dishes
  • Fish, especially fatty fish
  • Non-fat or low-fat dairy products (buy yogurt plain and add your own fruit)
  • Nuts (limit to about 1/4 cup, four days a week)
  • Non-tropical cooking oils (for example, not palm or coconut)
  • Chicken and red meat only occasionally
  • Infrequently, a sweet dessert

Since fruit contains a lot of sugar (in addition to its excellent nutrients), and the starch in potatoes and corn turns to sugar when digested, you should limit your intake of these foods. 

Other Habits that Support a Good Mood

Staying content and calm goes beyond what you eat. Getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, and exercising regularly, are crucial to feeling calm and positive.

How Probiotics Help

Jetson Mood contains four probiotic microbe strains, three vitamins, and an amino acid from green tea. Each has special properties that, together, increase levels of serotonin and dopamine (another “happiness hormone”), reduce the body’s reaction to stress, and produce those SCFAs mentioned above. Something else to feel good about? Jetson Mood starts working the first day you take it.

Sources:

Ferranti, Erin P et al. “20 Things You Didn’t Know About the Human Gut Microbiome.” The Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing vol. 29,6 (2014): 479-81. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4191858/ 

Thursby, Elizabeth and Nathalie Juge, “Introduction to the Human Gut Microbiota,” Biochemical Journal, May 16, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5433529/ 

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