• Rachel Clarkson RD


photo by Victoria Pels

Food means many things to different people and almost definitely evokes the feeling of joy in most! Universally, eating is how we celebrate, give pleasure to/reward ourselves, and is a huge part of our social lives with family and friends. Food also affects your mood in many ways...

Happy hormones

nuts by Chef Sous Chef

Serotonin is a chemical messenger in the brain that contributes to the feeling of wellbeing and happiness. Interestingly, serotonin is made using an amino acid (building blocks for proteins) called tryptophan. The absorption of tryptophan is enhanced in the body when high tryptophan-containing foods are eaten with carbohydrates. This has been said to explain why we get sugar cravings – because more tryptophan gets to the brain when carbohydrate-rich foods are ingested. Low tryptophan diets have been shown to lower the levels of serotonin in the brain. However research is ongoing to determine how much tryptophan-containing foods can increase serotonin levels in the brain. Keep reading for foods high in tryptophan.

  • Egg yolks

  • Tofu

  • Cheese

  • Turkey

  • Salmon

  • Nuts and seeds

Pro tip: Try to incorporate at least 2 of these foods into your daily diet and always combine them with a carbohydrate (brown rice, quinoa, bread, lentils or a piece of fruit) for maximum absorption of tryptophan!

Emotional connection

We all have that list of foods we know make us feel good because of an emotional connection. Maybe you used to have the food as a child, or maybe something reminds you of a place or loved one. Maybe a certain restaurant makes you feel a certain way. Some foods also have religious, spiritual and cultural significance, which will influence how we feel when we eat them.

Lack of vitamins and minerals

It’s no joke that the lack of certain nutrients will have a poor effect on health outcomes, but what if I told you that a lack of certain nutrients would also affect your mood? Highly restrictive diets, or diets lacking in variety, run the risk of being low in nutrients. For example, low iron would make you feel weak and tired; lack of B vitamins would make you feel tired, depressed or irritable; and low selenium may increase negative mood states. Ensure to eat a variety of foods throughout your week to make sure you get a range of different nutrients – eating seasonally also makes sure your food is as nutrient-dense as possible!

Pro tip: If you are choosing to follow a diet that removes whole food groups like meat, dairy, fish, etc., you 100% should seek the advice of a Registered Dietitian who can ensure nutrient adequacy in the rest of your diet – to support your mood and health!

Is your gut happy?

yogurt by ful.filled

Your microbiome is a collection of bacteria and other micro-organisms that live in your large bowel and keep you healthy! You want to increase diversity of your gut microbiome for optimal digestive health and mood. Imagine a diverse microbiome looking like a rainforest and an unhealthy gut microbiome resembling a desert.

Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso add good bacteria to your gut and regularly eating a wide variety of fibrous plant-based foods will feed your good bacteria. Interestingly, serotonin is also produced in your gut... even more of a reason to have a healthy one!

Pro tip: If you are thinking of taking any probiotic supplements, seek the advice of a Registered Dietitian who can guide you in the right direction of certain strains. Only some have clinical benefit!

Low carb = low brain power

gluten-free pear pie by audreyfitzjohn.com

Ever heard the term "hangry"? Of course you have! Low blood sugar causes lack of focus and irritability on another level. Also known as hypoglycemia, it can make you feel weak, tired and fuzzy minded. Carbohydrates = glucose = brain power!

Carbohydrates are all broken down into glucose which is used for energy in our body, and a huge 20% of this is used by our brains. As you can imagine, lack of carbohydrates in the diet can have an effect on your brain power and mood. Many people eat this way to manage their weight and they can get hangry very easily. The secret to lasting weight loss without low blood sugar is to choose large portions of high-fibre veggies (naturally low carb) and small portions of high-fibre whole grains. The fibre regulates your blood sugar, slowing the rate of digestion!

Other ways to enhance serotonin naturally:

  • Exercise produces endorphins that make you feel great, as well as the "happy hormone" serotonin!

  • The outdoors means more sunshine! Research suggests that bright light exposure increases serotonin in the body.

  • Positivity naturally produces serotonin in the brain. Happy thoughts, practicing gratitude, and meditation can all help with this!

Happy eating, ICBRKRs!

Rachel is the founder of The DNA Dietitian. She often helps clients at her Harley Street Clinic or via online video call to enhance mental performance through food and lifestyle. Get to know her more in her ICBRKR Extraordinaires interview, and quote ICBRKR for 15% off your first consultation!


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