Eating well to lift our spirits! – A diet for happy brains.

Posted on February 2nd, 2016 by Matt | Posted in Newsletter Articles

Eating Well to Lift Our Spirits! – A Diet for Happy Brains
By Matthew Trickey

During the short and overcast days of the winter season, eating the right nutrients can make the difference between feeling lethargic and depressed, or energetic and happy.  Faced with the need to keep warm during the cold winter months, it can be easy to overindulge cravings for sugar and carbs.  Most of us had plenty of those in recent months, so now is a good time to make good on those new year resolutions and eat some healthier, mood lifting fare. If you know which foods supply the nutrition you need to be happy, the only thing to do is go get them! Fortunately, this is easy to do, especially with a local store that carries all you need. With such an abundant selection of foods that will support your mood and energy, LifeSource is the place for foods that lift your spirits!

First, let’s do the science!

Many medical studies have shown correlation between nutrient deficiencies and mood disorders. Corresponding studies have shown success in treating these disorders with supplementation of the lacking nutrients. Good spirits require good brain nutrition. Happiness begins with neurotransmitters, and we need the right nutrients to make and use them. From the studies, the important compounds are; Omega-3 fatty acids – essential fatty acids that comprise brain and nerve cells,  Vitamin D, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, and Folate – nutrients that the body needs to synthesize neurotransmitters, and the elements, calcium, magnesium, chromium, iron, and zinc. We will examine these a little more in depth, and offer some suggestions for foods high in these nutrients.

Additionally, there are some other aspects of diet that function to support our moods too. We’ll look at the relationship between bacteria and serotonin in our digestion, and we’ll check out fun foods like chocolate, saffron, hot chilies, and green tea!

Now for some tea!

Heat a pot of water and grab your favorite mug, we are going to start with a quick way to lift the spirits, a nice cup of tea!  Green tea contains compounds shown to calm the nerves and ease stress. A cup contains a little bit of caffeine for a metabolism boost, and  L-theanine, an amino acid noted for calming and de-stressing. L-theanine is one of the few dietary supplements that cross the blood brain barrier, and once inside the brain, it balances glutamate. In people with depression, glutamate levels in the brain are out of balance. L-theanine helps restore glutamate balance, and suppresses stress-related steroids that interfere with mood and memory.  Polyphenols that give green tea it’s flavor and astringency are also beneficial antioxidants that help eliminate the by-products of metabolism. A cup of green tea is a great way to provide a lift to your day. There are other teas that are rich in vitamins, minerals and polyphenols.  Rooibos, Guayausa, Moringa, and Yerba Mate all contain antioxidants and boost the mood as well. Try them all for a little variety in your cup!

Breakfast? Yes! Please!

Upon awakening, your body has been without food for several hours, so your first meal of the day is important in providing your brain the nutrients it needs. Skip the sugar and empty carbs from pastries, let’s give your brain what it really craves, culture! Probiotics, friendly bacteria that live in our gut do several important things for us, especially helping us digest our food. We absorb nutrients and vitamins better with the help of these bacteria. Recently, a relationship has been established between our bacteria and mood regulation. Gut bacteria manufacture about 95% of the body’s serotonin. Serotonin is a fundamental neurotransmitter affecting nerve signal transmission and hormonal activity throughout the body. Serotonin is also synthesized in the brain where it regulates mood and sense of well-being. The relationship between the serotonin produced by gut bacteria, and effect on mood are still being researched, but some correlation has been established. Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and kombucha are a great way to ensure we have enough friendly bacteria and prepare the digestive system for absorbing nutrients.

Build your brain with Omega-3

Adding ground flax seeds or ground chia seeds to yogurt creates a super mood lifting breakfast! Omega-3 fatty acid comprises a significant percentage of brain and nerve cell mass, and is used to create serotonin and dopamine, the mood regulators of the brain. Because the body cannot make Omega-3, it must be obtained from diet. Fortunately, LifeSource carries several major food sources of Omega-3  including Chia seeds, Flax seeds, Salmon and Spinach.

Vitamin Time!

Let’s get out and play in the sun for our Vitamin D! …or maybe not, it seems we all need to obtain this nutrient from our diets. Vitamin D is used to regulate cell growth, aids in absorption of calcium, boosts the immune system and plays a role in preventing depression.  Humans can make Vitamin D in our skin from exposure to the sun, but that might be difficult in the winter in Oregon. Research suggests people who live at 45° North latitude can not synthesize enough Vitamin D from sun exposure and must obtain it from diet or dietary supplements. Local foods high in Vitamin D include Salmon, Chanterelle mushrooms and whole milk from pasture-grazing cows.

Vitamin B6 is part of the metabolic  production of neurotransmitters in the brain, it is used in brain metabolism and  immune system response. Foods high in Vitamin B6 include beans, poultry, fish, dark leafy greens, papayas, oranges and cantaloupe.

Vitamin B9 or Folate regulates serotonin, and the messaging between cells. Folate deficiency is associated with fatigue, and paired with B12, folate can help alleviate feelings of lethargy or depression. Folate is found in abundance in spinach, avocado, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and black eyed peas.

Vitamin B12 is used to grow blood cells, nerves and is necessary for the body to synthesize nutrients for normal neurological function. It is available almost exclusively from animal sources. The nutrient is difficult to obtain from plant-based sources because plants do not use it in any metabolic function.  Animal sources include Salmon, Tuna, organ meats, and cheeses. Vegans may obtain this nutrient from fortified foods or with vegan USP B12 supplements. USP vegan B12 is grown from bacteria cultures in a laboratory grade environment.

Elements, essential for happy brains

Calcium is an electrolyte that transmits electrical signals of the nervous system, and acts as a secondary messenger in nerve cells, activating proteins inside the cells. Calcium plays an important part in building strong bones, but if the body is deficient, calcium will be drawn back out of the bones. The body must have vitamin D to absorb calcium, also, some foods like spinach, though high in calcium, contain oxalic acid which inhibit absorption. Dairy products are a common source of calcium. Vegetable sources of calcium include collard greens, kale, broccoli, and bok choy.

Consider yogurt as an ideal way to increase calcium, protein and probiotics. Another quick side dish is Collard Greens. Cut collards and kale into thin long strips and saute in bacon fat, pasture butter, or olive oil, sprinkle with ricotta cheese and a splash of apple cider vinegar. A dash of cayenne pepper will enliven the flavor and provide that endorphin boost too!

Chromium affects food metabolism by regulating insulin, and sugar in the blood. A correlation exists between chromium and the neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine, which regulate mood. Broccoli has the most chromium so eat broccoli every day, romaine lettuce, eggs, dairy, oats, black pepper 

Use steamed broccoli, with butter and black pepper, as a great source of chromium. You can also include broccoli sprouts or baby broccoli florets and romaine lettuce in your salad, and eat eggs with black pepper, both rich in chromium.

Magnesium is an electrolyte mineral that plays an important role in relaxing muscle tissue. Insufficient magnesium can cause , fatigue, mental confusion irritability and stress. Magnesium is used in developing the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which promotes calmness. Dietary magnesium is abundant in cashews and almonds, spinach and edamame. In certain instances, magnesium and calcium supplements can help promote relaxation and restful sleep.

Iron helps the red blood cells to carry oxygen, and thus plays a very important role in keeping energy levels up. Women need more iron in the diet than men, but both genders will suffer lethargy and mood changes if iron levels are lacking. Animal sources of iron are very absorbable hemi-iron (from blood hemiglobin), include oysters, sardines, clams, and mussels, red meat, liver, and tuna. Plant sources are spinach, beans and lentils but the form of iron is not as readily absorbable.

Zinc protects the gut from damage and bolsters the immune system. Used in breakdown of carbohydrates, zinc also increases the effectiveness of insulin. Zinc plays a role in cell growth, healing, and testosterone production. Deficiencies of zinc can affect mood and proper hormone production, as well as immune deficiency. Zinc is abundant in protein-rich foods like meats and fish, beans, raw milk, raw cheese, and yogurt or kefir made from raw milk.

‎This is a great time for hot chocolate and cinnamon!

Dark Chocolate contains natural compounds very similar to neurotransmitters, including endorphins, phenethylamine, theobromine, anandamide, and tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin.  Chocolate is also a great source of magnesium, which is so important for relaxation. The theobromine in chocolate is related to caffeine but is a relaxant instead of a stimulant. This means chocolate is a potent cocktail of feel-good chemicals! (Just in time for Valentine’s day, too! Check out the sales on chocolates this month!)

Hot Chiles have a tremendous number of health benefits, and mood enhancement as well. Capsaicin, in chiles triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s feel-good hormones, in the brain.

Saffron consists of the pistils of flowers, gathered by hand and prized for it’s flavor. The flavor and aroma of saffron has a lot in common with green tea, because saffron contains similar polyphenols, compounds that have been shown to make serotonin more available to the brain.

If you have ever chewed a stick of Cinnamon, or used it to stir your hot cocoayou may have noticed a stimulating effect. Even just the smell of  cinnamon is said to boost cognitive function and memory, but cinnamon actually contains three compounds very similar to amphetamines. Yes, a little cinnamon may really wake you up, naturally!

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