Good Mood Foods

Author: Angela Fleming   Date Posted:17 July 2017 

45% of Australians will experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime. According to the World Health Organisation mental health is ‘a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community’.  

A current state of mind can have a lot do with our brain chemistry and how those chemicals are functioning. Food can play an important role in the synthesis of these brain chemicals as well as support nervous system function.  


Brain chemistry

The brain is perhaps the most intricate and complex organ in the human body. It governs every thought process, sensory perceptions, and every action and reaction. Architecturally, the brain is an extremely busy, complicated functioning unit; it never stops. Our brain chemistry is unique to one’s own, like a fingerprint. So what are the chemicals in our bodies that influence a positive thought process? They are neurotransmitters; they play a pivotal part in the emotional response.  

Neurotransmitters are chemicals stored in nerve cells, predominately synthesised by (but not limited to) amino acids. Neurotransmitters are responsible for cellular communication via the transmission of informatory signals, known as action potentials. Action potentials produce a specific response relative to a current situation. Neurotransmitters either inhibit or excite action potentials.

Low or high levels of neurotransmitters have been observed in mental health disorders.


Emotive neurotransmitters

Over 50 different chemicals have been identified as neurotransmitters. So which ones contribute to an emotional response?  



Emotive response



Mood & dream regulation, maintains arousal



Regulates movement, emotional responses; reward and pleasure



Reducing neuronal excitability, regulation of sleep cycles and body temperature



Regulation of temperature, mood & sleep



Cognition, memory and learning


Whilst these neurotransmitters are responsible for triggering an emotional response it is important to note that mental disorders arise due to a multitude of reasons. Neurotransmitter function may contribute to a current mental state, alongside other varying factors.   


Where does the food come in?

Diet can play an important role when it comes to feeling emotionally well balanced. It is amazing what nutrients from food can do for our minds. For example oats. Traditionally, oats are a nervous system nutritive, they are used in times of convalescence. Dark chocolate may help to improve mood due to the phytonutrients in the cacao beans. And certain foods containing amino acids, vitamins and minerals are responsible for the production and manufacturing of neurotransmitters. 

Why not include, increase, or make friends with these good mood foods to work towards reaching your potential, reduce stress, improve energy, and undertake activities positively and efficaciously.

Oats are very versatile and are a great way to start the day off. Oats are used in herbal medicine for the benefits they exert on the nervous system. Oats act as a nervine, which means they have the ability to improve the tone, vigour and function of the nervous system.

Dark chocolate contains theobromine, which is similar to caffeine however not addictive. It is a purine alkaloid, part of an established group known as methylxanthines. Methyxanthines commonly act on purine neurotransmitters, predominantly adenosine. Antagonism of adenosine receptors causes a temporary loss of inhibiting the release of neurotransmitters. Which in effect evokes a feel good aphrodisiac kind of mood!

Oily fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are full of omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 contains DHA which is vital for healthy brain functioning. DHA supports the maintenance of memory and cognitive functioning.

Fatty acids are a major component of cellular membranes and myelin sheath. Neuronal cells are protected by phospholipids which regulate membrane function, fluidity and control of neuronal growth factors. NGF is involved in the regulation, maintenance, proliferation and survival of neuronal cells.

It is suggested that fats from oily fish may have a positive influence on serotonergic and noradrenergic neurotransmitter function, which may have a direct effect on mood and behaviour.  



Bananas contain tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid which is required for the synthesis and conversion of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for transmitting information between neurons and other cells in the body. Serotonin influences mood and happiness.

Turkey contains tryptophan as well as tyrosine. Tyrosine is an amino acid which is utilised in the body to synthesise dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released when a pleasurable experience occurs; whether it be sexual arousal or rewarding yourself with that little something you have been wanting. Dopamine plays a role in cognitive function, allowing one to feel pleasure and motivation.

Dopamine is the precursor to noradrenaline. Vitamin C aids in the conversion of dopamine to noradrenaline. Why not try a turkey salad with vegies high in vitamin C, for example red capsicum, and leafy greens.

Fermented foods including yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi are rich in beneficial bacteria. These live cultures flourish throughout the small and large intestine helping us to digest the foods we eat and keep the immune system strong by crowding out potential pathogens.

Recent advances in research have discovered a positive link between probiotics and mental wellbeing. A bidirectional communication pathway known as the gut-brain-axis interacts between the central and enteric nervous systems, linking the emotional and cognitive centres within the brain with influences from the microbiota.  

Nuts and seeds for example almonds, pepitas, sunflower seeds and brazil nuts contain a full amino acid profile and they are high in protein. Nuts and seeds are also high in beneficial nutrients such as B vitamins and zinc.

Amino acids, alongside vitamins B1 and B6 as well as Zinc are required for the production of glutamate. Glutamate is further converted to GABA under the influence of B6.

Nuts and seeds also contain magnesium. It has been suggested that magnesium supplementation may help to alleviate symptoms of mild anxiety. Meeting your daily requirements of magnesium via foods is advantageous due to the all-encompassing nutrient profile. Supplementation may be required if food intake is inadequate.  Always talk to your doctor first before taking a new supplement.

*If you need further assistance regarding your mental health, speak to your doctor.  


Written by Angela Fleming
Angela Fleming

Angela (BHSc Naturopathy) is a qualified naturopath who strongly believes in living a healthy and happy lifestyle. Angela believes being active, taking time out for yourself on a regular basis and consuming a balanced healthy diet (with the odd sneaky treat included now and then) is the fundamental key to keeping our minds and bodies in good health.

Angela loves to pass on her knowledge of healthy and happy living to her two young children, who love to experiment in the kitchen with her and train alongside her in Karate.

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