I can speak from personal experience on this as I have had food allergies that have affected so many different aspects of my health including my mood, I have had to learn to be aware of the effect the foods that I do eat have on my mood and my overall health.
If I get tired or sluggish after a bowl of oats for example, I know that perhaps oats are not the right thing for my particular constitution, or if everything seems a little too much and bigger than life when I go over my daily limit of coffee. If I have sugar for example, I feel really down and out. If I haven’t eaten enough I get cranky and irritable. I think we can all relate, and have had similar experiences. How many people miss a meal, loose blood sugar control and are either lethargic or extremely irritable? I personally know many people who experience, what I call blood sugar blues (too many coffee’s, a slice of cake or a bag of chips and not enough “nutrition”) Often the link between food or lack thereof and mood is immediate. Many of us people often don’t see the connection between the two, we don’t understand why we can’t to get up in the morning, the ups and downs we experience daily, or why we struggling to face the world every day.
What I find interesting though is that not all food will have an impact on our mood, imagine eating an apple and it has an immediate effect? It would be almost “drug” like to experience something like that. But, there are foods and drinks that impact our neurotransmitters almost immediately in a “drug” like fashion. Ever reached for a chocolate when you feeling low and felt a little better? Or a whole loaf of bread when you need some comforting? Or even a glass of wine to calm you down and unwind? Many of the foods we eat affect our brain chemistry in some way, some have a positive impact others not so much.
Certain neurotransmitters do affect the brain and, consequently, our dispositions in measurable ways. For instance, high levels of serotonin are associated with being calm, happy and relaxed, while low levels are linked to depression and aggression.
So how do we manage our mood through food?
One of the most well known and very simple way’s, is to balance our blood sugar levels. Everything we eat has an impact on our blood sugar levels. If you want to eat your way to happiness the key is to follow a diet that keeps your blood sugar level even and provides plenty of tryptophan and omega-3 fats, which helps you make and use serotonin in the brain. Changes in blood sugar levels can have either positive or negative effects on various bodily functions and may result in both physical and mental changes. Although these changes are typically associated with extremely low or high blood sugar levels related to diseases such as diabetes, even modest changes can have a significant impact on the way you feel. For example, the “sugar rush” and impending crash one experiences after a high simple-carbohydrate meal can have a profound effect on mood. For example in the morning, your body releases a chemical called neuropeptide Y, which signals your brain to eat something starchy, whether it’s a bagel, a piece of toast, a sugary cereal, or a bowl of high-fiber cereal. If you eat a starchy breakfast, your brain gets the signal that your blood sugar is higher and will shut off the chemical. If you don’t, the chemical stays elevated, fueling carbohydrate cravings throughout the day. And depriving your brain of glucose for too long will make you feel cranky, low energy, and irritable. On the flip side, eating carbohydrates boosts the brain chemical serotonin, which makes you feel happy and relaxed.
By maintaining a relatively constant blood sugar level, it is possible to take greater control over negative moods and bodily fatigue. Eating 5 to 6 smaller, well-balanced meals throughout the day should allow you to avoid the spikes in blood sugar that negatively affect mood and energy levels. Breakfast is by far the most important meal of the day as it assists the body in regulating blood sugar levels as we progress through the day.
Getting a good quality night of sleep is, of course, essential for being energized and in good spirits the next day, and a proper dinner is crucial for this. Don’t have a heavy dinner right before bed, your body needs to rest while you sleep, it doesn’t need to spend the night trying to digest a whole lot of food . Your liver needs to rest, as it is a crucial organ for detox, blood sugar control, elimination and immunity.
If you have trouble sleeping, watch out for spicy or gassy foods. Stick with grilled chicken, tofu, or fish, accompanied by brown rice or barley and steamed vegetables. Keep it simple.
Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D, has been studying the link between what we eat and how we feel ever since the early 1990s when she published her first book on this topic, Food & Mood. Since then, people have been sharing their stories of how that book changed their lives.
Here is what she says:
“Most people at one time or another have turned to food for solace or a quick-pick-me-up. Return home from work and snack from the refrigerator as a way to relax and unwind. After a long day, a dish of ice cream may be just the comfort food you turn to.
In the past, however, scientists believe that the brain was cushioned from these food choices by what is called the “blood brain barrier,” which shielded the brain from fluctuations in the blood and rest of the body caused by food, drugs, or other substances.
But the blood brain barrier is much more permeable than previously thought and what we eat does affect brain chemistry, right down to the basic nerve cell called the neuron and its transmitting chemicals called neurotransmitters (NT).
In fact, many substances in food are the building blocks for these neurotransmitters that relay messages from one nerve cell to another and are the very foundation of how we think, act, feel, and behave. Approximately 40 NT have been identified that alter appetite and affect mood.
The link goes further than just one meal. Food and mood are a spiral that can go up or down. Whichever comes first, eating poorly or feeling blue sets off the spiral.
Once a person feels bad, it is likely he/she will turn to quick fixes, such as sugary foods or caffeine, to get a temporary energy boost.
In the long run, however, these foods only aggravate the fatigue or depression and cause the person to return to all the wrong foods that perpetuate the depression and fatigue.
Or, a person may skip meals when trying to cut calories and lose weight only to find that the pendulum swings from abstinence to binge later on”
She also states in her book that the more natural someone’s diet the happier they are, the more sugar, chemicals, and processed foods we eat the more it affects are body and brain chemistry. It makes sense, we were designed to eat, digest, assimilate and absorb natural and whole food.
Here are some examples of foods that negatively impact on our moods:
- Acid and spicy foods: for many people, eating spicy foods such as those containing cayenne or paprika, even chilli, can cause irritability. Acid forming foods, such as yogurt, deli meats and pickles, can also make some people feel edgy.
- Take Aways – foods that are loaded with sodium, hydrogenated fat, in the wrong combinations – think of a Big Mac with chips and Mcflurry – can make you feel sluggish and moody. The digestive system has difficulty processing foods with such poor nutritional profiles.
- Excessive amounts of caffeine (a stimulant) and alcohol (a depressant) can greatly impact your mood.
- Avoid any form of sugar – in biscuits, cakes, confectionery, other sugary snacks and also foods with added sugar in the forms of syrups, dextrose and maltose.
- Minimise your intake of fried food, processed food and saturated fat from meat and dairy to prevent damage to brain fats.
What to eat?
We get told this all the time, and it’s always the same regardless of the topic – whole, natural, unprocessed simple food.
The usual suspects, fruit, vegetables, some good quality protein, the good fats, not too much of everything and always some food for the soul, a treat now and then is great!
It is important to remember is that everyone’s body is different. Therefore, the way your body responds to certain foods may be different from the way other people’s moods are affected by that food. In order to get a better idea of your personal connection between mood and food, it is a good idea to keep a diary that tracks your diet as well as your moods. Eliminate or limit those foods that negatively impact your health as well as mood, you will find they are the same foods you shouldn’t be eating a lot of anyway. Eat in a way that supports your lifestyle, enhances your health, gives you energy, an inner sense of calm, and makes you FEEL good in a sustained way rather than for a few minutes.