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By Lisa Cossey, LCSW, February 26, 2019 –

Most of us have heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Recent research into food and the effects it has on the body and mind now have us saying, “Change your food, change your mood.”

Our brains are made of many neural pathways, transmitters, and chemicals that make up and regulate our thoughts and moods. Serotonin, the ‘feel good neurotransmitter’, makes us feel happy. When serotonin levels drop, it can make us feel sad or depressed.

Serotonin is directly linked with tryptophan, an amino acid found in many foods. Diets consisting of foods with low tryptophan levels lead to depleting serotonin in the brain, which in turn then leads to irritability, aggression, lowered mood, and impaired memory.

Diets including foods with high levels of tryptophan can provide the opposite effect and raise serotonin levels naturally. Turkey is high in tryptophan, so don’t relegate it only to Thanksgiving. Ground turkey can easily be used as a substitute for ground beef in most recipes.

Cottage cheese is also high in tryptophan and could easily be included in daily meals. Skip the chips at lunch and have some cottage cheese instead.

Another way to lower risk for depression, especially in women, is to drink coffee regularly. A National Institute of Health study tracked women over a ten year period (1996-2006) and found that women who drank coffee regularly throughout the week had lower reported depressive episodes than non-coffee drinking women.

How about a sweet treat to go with that coffee? Dark chocolate has been found to increase serotonin levels naturally as well, leading to improved mood. Bananas can also be included on a list of foods that will decrease negative mood-related symptoms.

Other amino acids, such as L-theanine and Omega-3, a fatty acid, as well antioxidants and minerals such as magnesium and zinc can all help reduce anxiety symptoms. Salmon is a great source of Omega-3 and can also alter dopamine and serotonin levels, packing a double advantage to reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, contain magnesium. Other foods found to reduce anxiety symptoms include, Oysters, green tea, and blueberries. Flavonoids, an antioxidant found in blueberries, assist in regulating mood, in addition to many other health benefits eating fresh fruit provides.

The foods listed above are not a complete list. If you are considering a major change to your diet, or if you have food allergies or other monitored health issues, please consult a physician and/or nutritionist. Changing what you eat, even small changes, such as eating a banana for a snack or swapping out the iceberg lettuce in a salad with dark, leafy greens, can impact overall health and mood for the better.