Neurotransmitter Boosting Foods:
How to Balance Your Brain Naturally and Improve Your Mood Through Simple Diet and Lifestyle Changes
BY OM SWAMI
foods are powerful tools for increasing and balancing neurotransmitters in the brain naturally. when combined with lifestyle changes, proper exercise and daily living habits, you can significantly shift your mood in the direction of more happiness, calm and joy. photo: vicuschka photocase.com
The Mind, The Body & Neurotransmitters
Unless we feel strong, energetic and healthy, we can’t really derive any pleasures from the joys of life and the world. Even a simple cup of coffee has no aroma and little joy if your nose is blocked, for example. Having said that, body and mind are interlinked though. If body is the vehicle then mind is the driver.
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, which are ways to increase neurotransmitter levels, 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!
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.
Ayurveda believes that food is your first and foremost medicine for all things—and that includes increasing and balancing neurotransmitters in the brain. Ayurveda puts the role of right diet at par, if not above, the consumption of medicine. The two are intricately linked, especially when it comes to mood and brain health.
Foods For Balancing Brain Neurochemicals
There are many sattvic (which loosely translates to inherently healthy and good) foods that are mostly alkaline and are extremely good for depression and other similar disorders because they balance and increase neurotransmitters in the brain naturally. Before I share those foods, I would like to remind you that neurotransmitters are chemical agents made from amino acids. Proteins are the source of amino acids and to manufacture neurotransmitters they require vitamins and minerals.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.
To sum up things up in regards to increasing and balancing neurotransmitters in the brain naturally, your dietary focus should be on consuming mostly alkaline foods. Antidepressants often have devastating side-effects whereas your food, especially those that are alkaline, is mostly free of such damning side-effects. The type of food you eat has an immediate impact on your mental and physical state almost instantly, with powerful effects on your brain’s neurotransmitter levels.For treating depression naturally, certain foods stand out. One of them is mango. It boosts serotonin in your body and helps balance your brain’s neurotransmitter levels naturally. While you should generally avoid tea and coffee because they are highly acidic, in depression, coffee can be actually helpful if taken in moderate quantity, of course. It lifts your mood due its powerful effects increasing neurotransmitters like dopamine and acetylcholine in the brain. If you get used to eating mango, even that can lift your mood just as well.
Folic acid found in spinach (boiled spinach) is very good for balancing neurotransmitters in the brain too. A glass of orange juice has a positive impact. Besides the standard nutritional benefits, alkaline foods boost your neurotransmitters. Here’s a food chart for your quick reference:
Serotonin: Mangoes, walnuts, flaxseeds, hemp and chia seeds, green leafy vegetables, tofu, sunflower seeds, brown rice, sesame seeds.
Dopamine: Sesame seeds, citrus fruits and berries, bananas.
GABA: Almonds, lentils, brown rice, beans, cantaloupes, oranges.
Acetylcholine: Poultry, wheat germs.
Tea and coffee are stimulants and deplete neurotransmitters in the longer term, but if taken in moderation, they can lift your mood.
Yogurt also aids in production of neurotransmitters in the brain naturally but should be limited in consumption as mentioned above as well, unless you find it to be very beneficial—then feel free to eat it more often. Try to eat organic and alkaline foods as much as possible as these types of foods more powerfully increase neurotransmitters.
Let me remind you that neurotransmitters are made from amino acids that are naturally found in the protein we consume through our diet. Protein alone can’t manufacture neurotransmitters in the brain though. In addition, you need the vitamins and minerals that are found in large amounts in most alkaline and wholesome foods. If you eat wholesome foods and you eat organic as much as possible, you can’t go wrong… and your body and brain will reward you with robust neurotransmitter production.
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. You might wonder what’s a living food? Any food that can sprout has living energy in it. Eating living foods brings you one step closer to nature and the closer you are to nature the faster you will heal. 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 neurotrnasmitters naturally.
This article on mood-boosting foods is excepted from When All Is Not Well: Depression and Sadness—A Yogic Perspective by Om Sawmi.
About The Author
Om Swami is a mystic who lives in the Himalayan foothills. An advanced yogin, Swami has done thousands of hours of intense meditation in complete seclusion in Himalayan caves and woods. He is also the author of the best-selling If Truth be Told: A Monk’s Memoir. You can connect with him on his blog, omswami.com, which is read by millions all over the world.