Mood Boosters: Why Caffeine, Carbs and Fat are Good for You

When you’re stressed out or feeling grouchy, you find yourself reaching for a sugary snack to give you an emotional wellness a boost. However, you know all-too-well that your feeling of wellbeing won’t last long, and will be replaced by the inevitable blood-sugar crash, with added irritability to boot. The problem with many foods in the Western diet is that they set you up for depression, anxiety, and mood swings. However, the good news is there are also plenty of foods to boost your mood, energy and performance. According to Drew Ramsey, MD, co-author of The Happiness Diet, ‘Food choices that you make every day influence your brain’s ability to grow and heal. The foundation of good mental health is good wholesome food.’ So, which foods can do the trick?


1. Caffeine: There’s something soothing about your morning cup of coffee, and a 2011 study from the Harvard School of Public Health has proven it. The results of the research revealed that if you drink at least two cups of coffee regularly, your risk of depression is 15% lower than women who don’t drink coffee – and your risk decreases by 20% if you plump for four or more cups. This is possibly because caffeine triggers your brain to release dopamine, which sharpens your focus and improves your outlook. Dr. Ramsey adds, ‘Coffee also contains plant-based nutrients that function much like a class of drugs that are used to treat depression.’ However, caffeine doesn’t affect everyone the same way, so cut back if you start to get the jitters or sleep poorly.


2. Fat: Because fat slows digestion, it gives you an unparalleled a calming, blood-sugar-evening effect. This is especially the case with omega-3 fatty acids, as a recent study found. The researchers asserted that eating two meals containing seafood per week can lower your rate of depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. This is possibly due to the fact that omega-3s maintain function in the areas of your brain that are responsible for regulating mood and emotion. However, Mary Morreale, MD, a psychiatrist at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, laments that, over the last 150 years, ‘we’ve greatly minimized the amount of omega-3s in our diet.’ It is the recommendation of the American Psychiatric Association that you eat two to three servings of oily fish a week. Other good sources of omega-3s are avocados, nuts and grass-fed beef, chicken and pork.


3. Carbs: Sure, carbs aren’t the best thing if you’re trying to lose weight, but they can seriously help with the mid-afternoon slump. Former director of MIT’s Clinical Research Centre in Women’s Health Judith Wurtman, PhD, co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet, explains you start to get cravings in the afternoon ‘thanks to a drop in the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, which can lead to that 4 o’clock mood slump some of us experience every afternoon.’ However, if you have a small snack that containing 25 to 30g of carbs, ‘it’s a small caloric expense to pay for feeling good,’ says Wurtman.


4. Tryptophan: Susan Bowerman, RD, assistant director of UCLA’s Centre for Human Nutrition, comments, ‘In order to make serotonin, you need tryptophan, an amino acid that your body can’t produce on its own, so it must be obtained from food.’ These include sources such as poultry, beef, eggs and nuts.


5. B Vitamins: Instead of making your lunchtime salad with boring, old romaine lettuce, switch to spinach for a better boost of the B vitamin folate. Dr Ramsey notes, ‘Higher concentrations of folate in the blood are linked to a decrease in negative mood, clinical depression and fuzzy thinking.’

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