Most of us realize poor food choices affect our health just as much as healthy food. Eat a diet high in fat and you are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease; eat a diet low in calcium and you at risk of developing osteoporosis – though we are aware of the link, the physiological effects of these nutritional excesses or deficiencies are not in our immediate future. Most people do not realize, however, the immediacy of the emotional connection between what we eat and how we feel. What you ate last night will undoubtedly affect how you feel in the morning, and what you ate for breakfast will undoubtedly affect how clearly you think in a few hours.
Neurotransmitters, our brains’ messengers, convey information throughout the brain. They can trigger, regulate, intensify or lessen our moods and reactions to situations, and they are influenced by what we eat. They depend on healthy fats and complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and protein. When neurotransmission becomes abnormal – transmitter levels are too high or too low – we become vulnerable to mood, behavior, and/or thinking problems. This is because our brain cells cannot accurately convey what’s going on, leading to responses that may be inappropriate to the situation. We might find ourselves losing our tempers more easily or feeling anxious or nervous and less often in a good mood.
The best line of defense against mood fluctuations is to eat a balanced, whole foods diet. Use the following guidelines to develop mood-enhancing eating habits.
1. Do not skip meals. Going for long periods without food can result in a drop in blood sugar levels, which could lead to feelings of irritability, nervousness and fatigue. Try to eat three meals and two snacks daily.
2. Eat a little protein at each meal. Protein stabilizes blood sugar, lessens appetite and reduces the amount of food you subsequently consume. Stable blood sugar levels protect you from mood swings and fatigue.
3. Eat a variety of high fiber vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, and celery. Fiber also helps stabilize blood sugar, protecting you from mood swings.
4. Eat a variety of high fiber fruits, such as apples and pears. In addition to the fiber found in fruits, the vitamins and minerals are necessary for achieving optimal health and increasing your energy level.
5. Eat foods rich in essential fatty acids, such as salmon, flaxseed, nuts, and olive oil. EFAs such as omega-3 and omega-6, aid in the transmission of nerve impulses and are needed for the normal functioning of the brain. A deficiency of essential fatty acids can lead to depression, hostility, and poor memory.
6. Drink more water. The human body is composed of about two-thirds water. Water is essential for our bodies to carry out each of its functions. The early symptoms of dehydration include headaches, fatigue, mood changes and trouble concentrating. Try to drink at least 8 glasses of water every day. To do so, set an alarm on your phone and always carry water with you.
7. Cut down on caffeine. Many people quench their thirst with coffee and soft drinks that contain large amounts of caffeine. The withdrawal effects of caffeine can contribute to impatience and irritability. Cut down by ¼ of a cup every two days or drink from a smaller mug.
8. Reduce your intake of sugar. Eating foods that contain sugars (such as sucrose and high fructose corn syrup) destabilizes blood sugar levels, increases the risk of diabetes and contributes to mood fluctuations. Healthy alternatives include honey, maple syrup, and stevia.
Exercise and sufficientsleep will also greatly enhance your mood. Exercise releases endorphins which calm us during stress and produce feelings of satisfaction. And of course, a well-rested person is always better equipped to handle the emotional highs and lows of life's challenges.
ReferencesChallem, Jack (2007). The Food-Mood Solution, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
Somer, Elizabeth R.D (1999). Food and Mood, The Complete Guide to Eating Well and Feeling Your Best. New York: Owl Books
Image: Ashley Noel Hennefer