We all know the feeling. It's Thanksgiving and you've just eaten a massive turkey meal (or tofurkey, depending on your preferences), complete with gravy, potatoes, yams, and other holiday delicacies. The meal is over and you sit back on the couch to watch the game and mingle with family. You can't help but feel the effects of a Thanksgiving hangover. Your head is groggy and clouded. You feel lethargic and unwilling to move. That lethargic feeling is thanks to an amino acid in turkey called tryptophan, and other elements in bread and sugary food which release serotonin in your brain, affecting your awareness and mood. Thanksgiving dinner is just one example of many types of food that have a psychological effect. The science of the brain-food relation is still young and many new discoveries still occur. But one thing is certain your diet can and does affect your mental state.
How Food and Your Brain Interact
Dopamine and norepinephrine are both responsible for alertness and quick responses. Serotonin, on the other hand, is associated with calmness and is often considered to have anti-anxiety effects. When you eat foods that are high in protein or leafy green vegetables and fruit, your dopamine levels go up. This increases your learning, understanding, thinking, and ease of voluntary movement. A lack of dopamine can result in depression, junk food cravings, a poor attitude, and a low sex drive. Oftentimes, obesity goes hand in hand with low dopamine receptors making it more difficult for an individual to experience pleasure from anything other than eating. On the other hand, serotonin comes from carbohydrates and junk food the most common sources being pasta, cereal, and candy. Serotonin is responsible for keeping you calm and under-stressed. For this reason, crash dieters who avoid carbohydrates often find themselves irritable for a few weeks after starting their diet.
Mood-Healthy Eating Tips
Like anything, foods with either dopamine or serotonin are good in moderation and at certain times of the day. Below, are a few different tips to help you with choosing the correct foods. Foods to help you feel alert and energetic:
- Meats and proteins, especially chicken or fish
- Dairy products such as cheese and eggs
- Leafy green vegetables
- Nuts, legumes and flax seeds
Foods to help you feel calm, and eliminate stress:
- Small amount of dark chocolate
- Vitamin C rich foods, such as oranges