Boost Mood and Energy
With These Foods
by Om Swami
How you feel mentally affects your body and the balance of your neurotransmitters in the brain and your physical health influences your emotional and mental health. You can eat all the right foods and exercise well, but if your mind is not supporting your body with positive thoughts and attitudes, such measures show no improvement in your physical health. It is one of the primary reasons, I observed, that why a majority of people are unable to lose weight even though they stick to a strict diet and exercise routine— because what’s in your mind matters as much as what’s in your stomach. If you are seeking to balance neurotransmitters in the brain naturally, you need to consider not only the foods you eat and the lifestyle you live, but the thoughts you think as well!
Foods For Balancing Brain Neurochemicals
Ayurveda believes that the same food can have different impact on different individuals based on their constitution (prakriti). The assessment is based on three humors of wind (vata), bile (pitta) and phlegm (kapha). Further, it states that beyond just being heavy or light on digestion, or being acidic (ushna or amala) or alkaline (sheeta or snigdha), foods can be full of goodness (sattvic), passion (rajasic) and ignorance (tamasic). It means that certain foods can have balancing effects on neurotransmitters in your brain that make you feel calm and composed, while some others can infuse passion in you and make you agitated and some can flare you up in other ways.
Protein, B Vitamins, Vitamin C and minerals (calcium, magnesium, selenium, etc.) are needed to produce serotonin and increase neurotransmitters in the brain in general. Green leafy vegetables (especially spinach), brown rice, tofu, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds are full of ingredients required for the production of serotonin, which is an important neurotransmitter for positive mood. Walnuts, flaxseeds, hemp and chia seeds contain Omega-3 fatty acids that are excellent for raising serotonin levels and balancing neurotransmitters naturally. While eggs and fish are also good for serotonin production, yogic scriptures classify all meat and poultry as tamasic food. Tamasic foods are acidic and promote aggression in the body and so should be limited in the frequency they are eaten.
Almonds, lentils, brown rice, beans, melons, cantaloupes are sattvic and alkaline foods that are excellent for increasing and balancing neurotransmitter production in the brain, especially GABA. GABA is the most powerfully calming and relaxing neurotransmitter the brain produces. Oranges are also good in GABA production and regulation
Ripe bananas are an excellent source of dopamine and work to powerfully increase neurotransmitter levels in the brain naturally. Free radicals deplete dopamine levels. So, if you eat food rich in antioxidants, they protect your dopamine stores. Dopamine is important for feelings of pleasure and happiness as well as generally supporting healthy mood and energy levels. Most citrus fruits and berries are packed with antioxidants. Besides, the vitamins these fruits contain combine with the amino acids to produce and balance neurotransmitters naturally. Sesame seeds also help in dopamine production. Coffee, alcohol and sugary drinks have a negative impact on dopamine levels. If you are not lactose intolerant then milk and other dairy products also help in balancing neurotransmitter production.
Wheat germs are rich in nutrients that raise acetylcholine levels in the brain, which is another important neurotransmitter that affects mood, memory, anxiety and more.
Eggs are also good for acetylcholine. Yogurt aids in production and balance of neurotransmitters but according to Ayurveda it has a negative impact on the cellular excretory system. Ayurveda states that each cell in the body has an inlet and an outlet and that yogurt blocks the outlet of the cells creating a breeding ground for numerous ailments. Yogurt is also acidic in nature. But if you feel good after eating yogurt, you should feel free to eat it to help increase neurotransmitters in your brain. In any case, it’s not good to eat it after sunset (or before going to bed) as it vitiates the three humors of wind, bile and phlegm.
Lifestyle Changes You Can Make to Increase Neurotransmitter Levels in the Brain
Ideally, no more than twenty percent of your diet should be acidic. Most of your diet should consist of vegetarian food items because they are living foods that help to naturally increase and balance neurotransmitters. Here are some golden pointers for you to combat depression and maintain high levels of neurotransmitters in the brain at all times:
1. Try to eat vegetarian, organic and whole foods whenever you can.
2. Avoid processed, canned, acidic and starchy foods.
3. Eating strictly at the same time every day has a remarkable effect on the body. Above all, it keeps the metabolic processes in check including acid production in the body. It has a direct and instant effect on your health and increases neurotransmitter levels naturally.
4. Avoid large gaps between your meals because, among other perils, this ultimately results in raised insulin level. Eating wholesome foods at the same time every day and avoiding large gaps between your meals can also help you overcome binge-eating and bulimia and maintain high levels of neurotransmitters in the brain throughout the day.
5. Go to bed at about the same time every day. Even if you have insomnia or you can’t go to sleep for any other reason, don’t be stressed about it. Just take shower, freshen up, and lie down in your bed. Don’t worry about being unable to fall asleep. Just take deep breaths. It is best to sleep to your right as this will start the left nostril which is the lunar channel. Resting and sleeping have powerful effects on brain neurotransmitter levels as well.
6. Breathing through the left nostril has a cooling and a calming effect on the body and mind and breathing can absolutely affect and increase neurotransmitter levels.
7. No matter what, don’t replace your sleeping time with screen time. So, if you can’t go to bed, don’t get up and either start watching TV or go online and surf the net. Trust me on this one (or validate it for yourself). You can put some light music or best is just listen to your breath. If you get disturbing thoughts, pay no attention as a matter of principle and resolution and simply listen to your own breath. Staring at synthetic blue lights from screens can reduce neurotransmitter levels, melatonin levels and make it harder to sleep.
8. Make sure that you eat around four hours prior to going to bed. This is absolutely critical for a sound, rejuvenating and nourishing sleep and balanced neurotransmitter levels in the brain. If you find it hard to go to bed empty stomach, you can have a wholesome light snack (like a fruit or a piece or two of whole-wheat bread with a slice of cucumber or so — without cheese) an hour before you go to bed.
9. The most important principle of diet is: don’t be obsessed. Listen to your body and eat in moderation.
10. Light to moderate exercise and movement are integral to increasing neurotransmitter levels in the brain naturally. Walking, yoga and low-impact sports are ideal.
If you worked out physically during the day, and you ate the right diet, no matter what your state of mind, you will have a sound sleep and have done most everything in your power to balance your brains neurotransmitters naturally.
Om Swami is a monk who lives in a remote place in the Himalayan foothills. He holds an MBA from University of Technology, Sydney and a Bachelors in Business Computing from University of Western Sydney. He founded and lead a profitable software company for seven years with offices in San Francisco, New York, Toronto, London, Sydney and India. Om Swami completely renounced his business interests to pursue a more spiritual life. His blog can be seen on www.omswami.com. This article was excepted from When All Is Not Well: Depression and Sadness—A Yogic Perspective by Om Sawmi.