Food to Reduce Stress and Boost Your Mood

Food to Reduce Stress and Boost Your Mood

Our lovely Holistic Health Coach, Louise Murray is back with another brilliant guest blog to share with us her favourite foods that can improve your mood.

January is a time of year when we can definitely benefit from her advice on which foods we can incorporate into our diets to help our bodies combat stress and boost our mood.

bowl of oats with gold spoon

Photo by micheile henderson on Unsplash

Mood Food

What you eat has the power to influence your hormones and your neurotransmitters, which control how you feel and can therefore help ease your stress or increase it, lift your mood or deplete it. When you eat things like refined sugar and coffee it may increase inflammation and stress hormone production. Other foods have the power to help induce calmness. There really is such a thing as mood food… what you eat can make you feel tired, sluggish, uninspired, and deflated OR food can make you feel energised, positive, calm and uplifted. Your mood is really affected by what you put into your body – by the foods you choose to eat or not eat.

mood food lentils

Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

What to reduce…

Caffeine: Caffeine blocks your production of GABA – nature’s Valium which is responsible for our feelings of calmness and happiness. Caffeine is also a stressor that can cause your hormone adrenaline to spike….as its levels come back down again it causes cortisol to spike - the stress hormone. Caffeine basically exaggerates your stress response and reactions. So if you want to try and minimise anxiety, stress, feeling down or negative thoughts then try swapping out coffee with alternative energy boosting drinks like blue majik latte, cacao latte, beetroot latte, or turmeric latte.

Sugar & refined carbs: When feeling blue or lacking in energy, you may crave high sugar processed foods to try to lift your spirits and boost your energy. While this might give you a sugar rush, and temporary high mood and energy levels, it’s unlikely to help you in the long term. Keeping your blood sugar levels stable is one of the most important things you can do to support your energy levels and mood. mental health. Why? When you eat sugar or refined carbs (bread, white rice, cakes, biscuits, sweets) they release sugar into your bloodstream quickly – resulting in a sugar surge that triggers an increase in insulin. Insulin acts to remove excess sugar from your bloodstream. With too much exposure to sugar and processed carbs, the continuous insulin spikes can lead to feelings of anxiety, low mood and depression. In addition, continual high insulin levels reduce your happy hormone, serotonin – further leading to low mood and depression….plus cravings for the exact foods you need to avoid. So cut down on sugar and processed foods and pile your plate and snack bowl high with some of the foods mentioned below that have been shown to not only boost your energy and mood but also your overall health. 

turmeric in bowl with spoon

Photo by Tina Witherspoon on Unsplash

What to increase…

Magnesium: Natures chill pill, magnesium supresses stress hormones. The problem is that many of us don’t get enough of it in our diets and on top of this, our lifestyles deplete what little we do get; stress, alcohol, caffeine, soft drinks, and antibiotics all deplete magnesium. Boost your magnesium levels by packing your diet with plenty of leafy greens, nuts and seeds (especially cashews, brazil nuts, almonds, sunflower seeds), cacao, avocado, banana, quinoa, brown rice, and oats.

Adaptogens: Rather than the fake energy surges of caffeine or sugar – adaptogens improve the health of the adrenal system, helping your body better cope with stress by modulating the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands. If you feel overwhelmed and anxious they can calm you and ground you. If you feel run down and worn out, they can give you energy to get you tackle your day. When it feels like life is coming at you at 200 miles an hour – they can be the trick up your sleeve to help regulate cortisol, and help keep you level-headed and calm when under pressure. They also help you rest and sleep better. My favourites for regulating stress, energy and mood are ashwaganda, maca, rhodiola and reishi.

Cacao: a pure form of chocolate that comes very close to the raw and natural state in which it is harvested. It is one of the plant foods with the highest content of magnesium, the mineral responsible for helping us sleep well and handle stress better. Cacao also contains phenylethylamine (PEA), associated with elevated mood…enjoy in smoothies, energy balls, porridge, baking, or as a delicious hot drink.

Leafy greens: Green leafy vegetables like spinach contain folate, which produces dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical, helping you keep calm. So eat your greens for a dose of vibrant energy and calm.

Omega-3: Stress can ratchet up levels of anxiety hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in foods like salmon, chia seeds, flax) have anti-inflammatory properties that may help counteract the negative effects of stress hormones.

Blueberries: When you're stressed, there's a battle being fought inside you. The antioxidants and phytonutrients found in berries fight in your defence, helping improve your body's response to stress.

Nuts & Seeds: Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are all great sources of magnesium (natures chill pill) plus certain nuts and seeds are also high in tryptophan, an amino acid responsible for producing mood-boosting serotonin; walnuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are all good sources.

Dark chocolate: Research has shown that it can reduce your stress hormones, including cortisol. Also, the antioxidants in cocoa trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation – helping you cope with stress. It also contains unique natural substances that create a sense of euphoria similar to the feeling of being in love. Go for varieties that contain at least 70% cocoa.

Banana: High in vitamin B6, which helps produce feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. When still showing a little green on the peel, bananas are an excellent source of prebiotics, a type of fibre that helps feed healthy bacteria in your gut and a robust gut microbiome is associated with lower rates of mood disorders.

Oats: An excellent source of fibre, oats allow for a gradual release of sugar into the bloodstream, which is important for controlling energy, mood swings and irritability.

Turmeric: Recent studies have linked it to reducing stress and depression due to its role in fighting inflammation in the body, and elevating neurotransmitters such as serotonin.

Fermented foods: Since up to 90% of your body’s serotonin, your happy hormone, is produced in your gut, a healthy gut may correspond to a good mood. Fermented foods like kimchi, yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut are rich in probiotics that support gut health and mood.

Beans & lentils: An excellent source of B vitamins, beans and lentils may help improve mood by increasing levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), all of which are important for regulating mood. Plus they’re a good source of zinc, magnesium, selenium, and non-heme iron, which may likewise elevate your spirits.

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