Guide To Eating For Mood And Sleep

Photo credit: Hernan Sanchez

Photo credit: Hernan Sanchez

Imbalances in our neurotransmitters can cause depression, anxiety, OCD, problems sleeping, and a wide range of other troublesome symptoms. 

Neurotransmitters have nutrient based precursors including amino acids, in particular phenylalanine, tyrosine, GABA (gamma aminobutyriuc acid), and tryptophan. Also iron, BH4, B vitamins (active forms of B12, folate and B6), copper (don't supplement with copper without balancing with zinc) and vitamin C are needed to build neurotransmitters from these amino acids.

As an example, the amino acid tryptophan is required for your body to make serotonin. B vitamins, magnesium, and other vitamins and minerals are also required. Serotonin is then converted into melatonin. Serotonin is well known for playing a role in depression, and melatonin in sleep.

Eating foods that contain nutrients that are involved in neurotransmitter metabolism may help improve your mood and help you get a good night's rest.

Managing stress is also important for good sleep, as well as for improved mood. There are dietary interventions, and lifestyle interventions that can help you manage stress. 

Nutrients for Mood and Sleep

Nutrients important for mood: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, Folate, B12, Biotin, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA), magnesium, iron, copper, amino acids (phenylalanine, tyrosine, GABA, tryptophan)

Nutrients important for sleep: Selenium, vitamin C, tryptophan, potassium, magnesium, chromium, zinc, iron, calcium, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA), melatonin, B6

Nutrients and Foods Containing Them

B1: Can be depleted with alcohol. Green peas, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, sunflower seeds, pistachios, herring, crimini mushrooms, ground flaxseed, spinach

B2: Spinach, tempeh, crimini mushrooms, eggs, asparagus, turkey 

B3: Tuna, chicken, turkey, salmon, lamb, beef, sardines, brown rice 

B5: Chicken liver, sunflower seeds, salmon, avocado, sun dried tomatoes, corn, mushrooms

B6: Tuna, turkey, beef, chicken, salmon, sweet potato, potato, sunflower seeds, spinach 

Folate: Liver, chicken giblets, egg yolk, dried beans, lentils, split peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, beet root, Brussels sprouts, dark leafy greens, kale, bok choy, asparagus, oranges, peaches 

B12: B12 is only found naturally in animal products, Choose methylcobalamin for supplemental source, sardines, salmon, tuna, cod, lamb, beef, liver, chicken, fish, eggs, rainbow trout, haddock

Biotin: Eggs, legumes, meats, oily fish, chicken, liver

Vitamin C: All will be higher in vitamin C if uncooked: Bell peppers, papaya, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, kiwi 

Vitamin D: Salmon, herring and sardines, cod liver oil, canned light tuna (lower in mercury), oysters, egg yolk, mushrooms

Calcium: Tofu prepared with calcium sulfate (raw), plain yogurt, sardines, cheddar cheese, milk, white beans (cooked), Bok choy/Pak choi (cooked), figs (dried), orange, kale (cooked), pinto beans (cooked), broccoli (cooked), red beans (cooked)

Iron: Beef, chicken liver, oysters, clams, tuna (light canned in water), muscles, raisins, prune juice, prunes, potato with skin, quinoa, spinach, Swiss chard, beans, lentils, tofu, hazelnuts, cashews

Magnesium: Halibut, spinach, chard, oatmeal, potatoes, black-eyed peas, brown rice, lentils, avocados, pinto beans 

Copper: Oysters, shellfish, whole grains, beans, nuts, potatoes, organ meats (kidneys, liver), dark leafy greens, prunes, cocoa, black pepper

Zinc: Beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, lentils, garbanzo beans, quinoa, turkey 

Potassium: Bananas, potatoes, prunes, plumes, oranges and orange juice, tomatoes and tomato juice, raisins, artichoke, avocados, broccoli, lima beans, acorn squash, spinach and other leafy greens, sunflower seeds, almonds

Selenium: Brazil nuts, tuna (yellowfin), oysters, clams, halibut, shrimp, salmon, crab, pork, beef, chicken, brown rice, sunflower seeds, milk

Chromium: Broccoli, green beans, potatoes, grape juice, orange juice, beef, turkey, apples, bananas

DHA and EPA (Essential Fatty Acids/Omega 3s/healthy fats): Cell membranes are made of cholesterol and phospholipids, need to make sure there are plenty of healthy fats in your diet daily, and essential fatty acids reduce inflammation, and assist with gut and skin healing. Flaxseed, eggs, fish and fish oils, marine sources (sea vegetables/seaweeds), avocado, coconut oil

Melatonin: Pineapples, bananas, and oranges can help boost levels. Tart cherries and walnuts contain small amounts.

Phenylalanine: Cheeses, nuts and seeds, lean beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, lean pork, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, whole grains

Tyrosine: Cheese, soybeans, beef, lamb, pork, fish, chicken, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy, beans, whole grains

GABA: Almonds, tree nuts, bananas, liver (beef), broccoli, brown rice, halibut, lentils, citrus fruits (oranges), spinach, walnuts, whole grains

Tryptophan: Turkey, chicken, eggs, sweet potatoes, chia and hemp seeds, bananas, pumpkin seeds, almonds, yogurt

Avoid High Mercury Fish

High mercury fish: Swordfish, shark, king mackeral, tilefish, marlin, orange roughy, ahi tuna, bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna

Low mercury fish: Anchovies, catfish, flounder, hake, haddock, herring, salmon (farmed may contain PCBs, not good either), mackeral, canned light tuna, trout, whitefish, pollock, sardines, butterfish

General Recommendations

Go organic when possible for fruits and vegetables.

Go organic, pastured, free range, grass fed, wild caught, etc. for animal products.

Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water per day. For little ones, drink one 8 oz glass per year of age, per day.