Do you remember the Mr. Men and Little Miss book series? The author of these books, Roger Hargreaves, was a genius when it came to writing entertaining books to teach kids about personalities and emotions. His characters ranged from Mr. Happy and Mr. Grumpy to Little Miss Sunshine and Little Miss Trouble.
What Hargreaves didn’t mention, however, was that a person’s diet could affect his or her mood. The truth is that your diet can make you either a Little Miss Happy or a Mr. Cranky Pants! (Those weren’t any of Hargreaves characters, by the way.)
That’s right. Your diet (good or bad) alters your brain structure—both chemically and physiologically—and directly affects your mood and behavior. Here’s why: nutrients in foods are precursors to neurotransmitters, also known as brain chemicals. Depending on the amount of precursors present in the food you eat, more or less of a certain neurotransmitter is produced. The up side is that certain good mood-supporting brain chemicals—like serotonin, dopamine and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)—can be wisely fed.
Serotonin is a major neurotransmitter produced in the brain and is known as “feel good” brain chemical. Serotonin is also found in the gut, and it plays an important role in mood regulation, while supporting relaxation and digestion. Among other things, serotonin keeps your focus sharp and your concentration keen, enables you to get a good night’s sleep and to awaken happy and energized.
In the body, serotonin is produced from tryptophan, an amino acid that is formative in proteins. Through enzyme activity, tryptophan is converted to serotonin. Foods that are high in tryptophan include meat, poultry, fish, dairy foods, walnuts, flaxseeds and sprouted grains or breads. Bananas, pineapples, plantains, kiwis, plums and gooseberries register high in their serotonin content, while other good sources of serotonin include tomatoes, spinach and other dark, green veggies, dates, figs, grapefruit, melon, eggplant and avocados.
Likewise, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that either increases or decreases the activity of nerve cells. It is involved with several functions, including mood, attention regulation, cognition and movement. Dopamine occurs naturally in the body and is found in foods such as eggs, poultry, cottage cheese and other dairy products as well as various high-protein foods. The amino acid GABA acts as a neurotransmitter to suppress nerve impulses related to anxiety and to reduce frenzied responses to the outside world. GABA-rich foods include fish, walnuts, brown rice, spinach, broccoli, lentils, bananas, oranges, almonds and oats.
You see? You can have a happy and healthy new year by eating foods (organic, of course) that make you feel like Little Miss Happy. To avoid being Mr. Cranky Pants, though, steer clear of processed foods and junk foods.
The bottom line? Stick with good mood foods in 2012 for a truly happy new year!