Feed your brain: Nutritionist shares how to “eat yourself happy”
11/06/2017 // Janine Acero // Views

Mood is everything; how your whole day will unfold depends on your mood. Feeling grumpy will ruin the day for you, and you might want to resort to eating tasty junk food to "feel good" for a short time. Of course, whatever we feed our stomachs, we feed our brains.

Human brains are big, and a lot of the energy converted from the food we eat go straight to our noggin. It isn't news that eating sinful amounts of junk food can cause irregular shifts in blood sugar levels, which then interferes with the brain chemicals that affect mood. (Related: Proof junk food is like a drug: Researchers found sugary and fatty foods distract people twice as much as healthy snacks.)

The BBC series Trust Me, I'm a Doctor explores the impact of food on the brain and inferred that a healthy diet is crucial to having a healthy brain; thus having a happy, uplifted mood.

Feed your brain

Not all the nutrients we absorb are needed by our brains. Some are more crucial to maximum brain function than others. Here are some of these nutrients, their sources, and how much of them you need:

B vitamins support energy production in cells, therefore relieving fatigue and exhaustion. These also improve nervous system function, and aid with memory processing and cognition. Excessive consumption of alcohol and sugary foods deplete vitamin B levels.

Vitamin B1 (thiamin) deficiency causes depression and lack of self confidence, particularly in women. The recommended daily dose for adequate levels of vitamin B are one mg for men, and 0.8 mg for women, through supplements like vitamin B complex, or foods rich in vitamin B, which include: yeast extracts such as Marmites; dairy products like milk and yogurt; oily fish like salmon; turkey meat; and brown rice.


Iron transports oxygen to the brain for proper brain function. Iron deficiency is most common worldwide – the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) data shows that 27 percent of women, and 48 percent of teenage girls are iron-deficient.

The recommended dose of iron each day are 8.7 mg for men (19-64 years), 14.8 mg for women (19-50 years), and 8.7 mg a day for women (50-64 years). Foods rich in iron include pig liver, black pudding, venison, red meat, seafood (cockles, mussels, canned tuna in oil), and tahini paste.

Calcium is usually needed for bones and teeth, but it also helps with the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that pass messages from one brain cell to another. Adults (19-64 years) need 700 mg of calcium a day.

Calcium of course, is abundant in dairy products – a pint of milk provides as much as 720 mg calcium. Other calcium-rich foods include green vegetables like kale (135 mg calcium per 100 g) and cooked broccoli (40 mg calcium per 100 g); chia seeds (just three tablespoons can provide an impressive 177 mg calcium); soy beans like tofu (200 mg calcium per 100 g); and sardines (382 mg calcium per 100 g if you eat their bones).

Chromium maintains normal blood sugar levels and activates insulin receptors. Lack of chromium causes hunger pangs, cravings and mood changes such as nervousness, irritability, confusion and depression.

Adults need around 25 mcg (micrograms) of chromium a day. Foods that are high in chromium include mussels (128 mcg chromium per 100 g serving), Brazil nuts (10 mcg chromium each), dried dates (29 mcg chromium per 100 g), and pears (27 mcg chromium per 100 g).

Brain cells need zinc to respond to hormones. Severe deficiency can suppress brain hormones needed to trigger puberty and normal sexual responses. The recommended daily dose of zinc are 9.5 mg for men, and seven mg for women. Foods rich in zinc are oysters (45 mg zinc per 100 g), lean beef (10 mg zinc per 100 g), calves' liver (16 mg zinc per 100 g), quorn (6.75 mg zinc per 100 g), and pumpkin seeds (two tablespoons provide around 2.5 mg zinc).

Selenium is a key part of powerful antioxidant enzymes that protect brain cells from oxidative stress. It also protects against dementia and stroke. Intake recommendations for all adults is 400 mcg per day. Nuts like the Brazil nuts and cashews; sunflower seeds; seafood; and mushrooms are all good sources of selenium.

Besides the ones mentioned, protein is also vital to make serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters that regulate mood. Protein is abundant in meat, fish, beans, whole grains, quinoa, nuts, seeds, and eggs.

Sources include:



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