Mmm, Turkey: Eat More, Lower Your Stress and Improve Your Mood

Thanksgiving is a definite feel-good holiday. But could the source of its enjoyment have to do with something other than just being around family and eating delicious food? Some researchers suggest consumption of foods containing the amino acid tryptophan increases serotonin levels, generating a sense of calm in the consumer.

Turkey is perhaps the best-known example of food containing this chemical, but tryptophan can also be found in nuts, peanut butter, sesame seeds, chicken, milk, oats, bananas and cheese.  

Seeking Serotonin  

Tryptophan is not the only chemical found in food that can boost serotonin - the same is true of carbohydrates. Just remember to choose whole grains such as brown rice or whole wheat bread. While processed carbs can boost serotinin, the initial surge of energy they provide is followed by a rush of insulin that drops the blood’s sugar levels and produces drowsiness.   

Downing the Dopamine  

Turkey’s positive effects aren’t limited to boosting serotonin. Because it is high in protein, promotes the production of dopamine and norepinephrine – neurotransmitters essential in maintaining reaction time, alertness and mental energy. Combining complex carbohydrates with protein-rich foods such as meats, cheese, eggs, yogurt, fish and nuts are particularly important to good mental health.  

The Benefits of Vitamin B  

Some research suggests B vitamin levels, such as thiamin, folic acid, B12 and B1, impact mood. Deficiencies of Vitamin B12 and folic acid, in particular, have been correlated with depression. Be sure to eat plenty of nuts, rice, oranges, leafy greens, legumes, eggs, beef, chicken and pork to ward off the blues with the vitamin B.  

Foods to Avoid  

Knowing what not to eat is as important as knowing what to eat. For example, it may be helpful to avoid caffeine if you are prone to depression. Depression may be related to unusually low serotonin levels in the brain, and while caffeine provides an initial pick-up, it also inhibits the brain’s serotonin levels. This can cause irritability. A diuretic, coffee also stimulates frequent trips to the bathroom, which can result in dehydration. Even mild cases of dehydration have been shown to influence people’s moods. Furthermore, caffeine’s stimulating properties may contribute to anxiety.   

While we want you to enjoy your Thanksgiving feast, be mindful of your sugar intake. Sugar, like caffeine, may initially make you feel more energetic, but the initial high quickly results in the infamous sugar crash that can leave you feeling lethargic and depressed. It’s important to note that processed foods, such as pie, cakes and sausage, may contribute to depression and lower moods. One study found that those who ate processed meat, high-fat dairy products, fried food and sweetened desserts were at a 58 percent higher risk for developing depression than those who consumed whole foods such as vegetables and fish.