Which of the following does not pose risks to our mental health?
A. Chronic stress
B. Not eating properly
C. Poor physical health
D. Sleep deprivation
The answer is...all of the above affect your mental health! You might be surprised at how food can affect mood. When debating between ordering KFC vs. a salad, we are usually more concerned about how it will affect our physical appearances（How much weight will I gain?） than how it will impact our thoughts and behavior. In recent years, more and more research suggests that what we eat directly affects how we feel. A new field of psychology called "nutritional psychology" is hence created.
Good fuel #1: L-tyrosine
L-tyrosine is a precursor for dopamine, while dopamine is the precursor for epinephrine and norepinephrine (the chemicals released during "fight or flight" response under stressful conditions). Sufficient L-tyrosine intake from food can elevate our mood and make us feel motivated, but it can also make us feel more alert and excited.  Therefore, L-tyrosine consumption from food can be suitable for people feeling passive/lacking motivation but not as ideal for people prone to feeling anxious or heightened alertness all the time. 
Dietary sources: high-protein foods
- Soy products
- Whole grains （i.e., oat bran)
Good fuel #2 Tryptophan
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that acts as a "mood stabilizer" by making us feel calm and relaxed. Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan, therefore consuming tryptophan-rich foods such as turkey are shown to decrease depression and anxiety. 
Consuming carb-rich food can also increase the level of tryptophan by causing insulin release to promote tryptophan absorption. (carbs are not always bad!) 
- Whole grain bread
Good fuel #3 EPA (a type of Omega 3)
A study with depressed patients consuming a diet rich in EPA showed that EPA can improve mood as effectively as certain antidepressants! EPA's ability to regulate signaling molecules in the brain and protect the brain cells suggests a previously neglected "power" of certain foods as natural antidepressants. 
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Omega-3 eggs
Good fuel #4: Probiotics
We have a wide variety of microorganisms living inside our gut, but not all are beneficial. Good vs. bad gut microorganisms compete for resources to change our gut environment in ways that favor their survival.  The gut is also named the "second brain": millions of neurons live there. A good gut microbiome creates an optimal environment for these neurons, allowing them to feedback to the brain and activate pathways that produce "feel-good" signaling molecules such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. 
Dietary sources: fermented foods
- Miso soup
*Caution! More doesn't always mean better. Consuming too many probiotics (i.e., in supplemental form) can be harmful . Moderation is key when eating.
Good fuel #5 Vitamin B
The two most important Vit B for regulating mood are folate (vita B9) and Cobalamin (Vit B12). They are needed to synthesize serotonin and dopamine. Vit B9 and B12 deficiency are found in many mood disorder patients. Vegetarians are also at risk for B12 deficiency since the majority of B12 is found in animal products. 
Tips: Vitamins are primarily water-soluble and are very susceptible to be lost during cooking when exposed to water. Steaming and slow cooking (like stews that you will drink the soup/sauces) better preserve nutrients instead of boiling. 
- Dark green leafy vegetables (i.e., spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce) Asparagus
B12 sources: animal products
- Dairy products
B12 sources for vegetarians:
- Fermented soy products
- B12 fortified foods (The daily recommended intake of B12 for an adult is 2.4mcg) 
Bad fuel #1 Sugar
Besides the taste buds, we have "sugar sensors" in our gut that also sense the arrival of sugar, subconsciously signaling the brain for the release of dopamine . As mentioned before, dopamine is the neurotransmitter for "wanting more." Unless you consume more sugar to feed into this vicious cycle of sugar craving, you will end up feeling more negative due to the drop in dopamine level (aka the Sugar Crash).
Artificial sweeteners are shown to decrease the quality of our gut microbiome. Besides, some sweeteners disrupt the gut microbiome by creating a favorable environment for the "bad gut microorganisms," thus making us feel worse .
Bad fuel #2: Processed foods
Processed foods usually contain high levels of saturated fat and refined sugar. Not only do they have a low-nutrient profile (Basically lacking all the "good fuels" mentioned above), but they also promote neuroinflammation: a key pathogenic factor for the development of many mental illnesses . One rule of thumb: we want to eat foods as closest to their original state as possible.
Although there is no magic diet that can make you suddenly feel amazing, there are many lifestyle factors, including proper sleep, exercise, and social interaction, that all contribute to enhancing your mood. TWS is dedicated to accompanying you on your inner growth journey by providing you with different tools in each of our articles. Together, we can build a sustainable internal environment that continues to nourish you.
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