Mood and Food: A Connection
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Feeling down? Grab a tall glass of milk. Having trouble concentrating? Snack on a handful of walnuts. Need a pick-me-up? Go ahead and indulge in a little chocolate. It is not a secret that diet impacts health. The foods you eat affect your energy, weight, and nutrient levels; but did you know that the foods you eat can also impact your mental health?
Nutritional psychiatry puts a whole new spin on “you are what you eat”. When we ingest food, our bodies break down necessary nutrients and utilize them for certain functions. Various organs store these nutrients or use them to their advantage, while eliminating waste. It’s a complex process, and we don’t even have to think about it. But wouldn’t it be nice if we paid more attention to fueling our ability to think?
You Think What You Eat
The brain is an organ, just like your liver or heart. It needs certain foods to function properly. The brain controls every aspect of you; it’s in charge of concentration, emotions, and other bodily functions. If it doesn’t receive the nutrients it needs, your whole being is effected, which can limit your potential and personal growth. The brain works this way: a response occurs when two cells (neurons) communicate (neurotransmission), and certain hormones (from nutrients) make up our cells. For example, a fatty substance called myelin insulates and protects our neurons. Myelin consists of vitamin B12, found in red meat, dairy, and seafood.
How Food Controls Mood
Neurotransmitters also control our moods; serotonin, a brain chemical that enhances mood, needs iron and tryptophan (that thing that makes you sleepy after eating turkey). In fact, tryptophan is the key to much of our happiness. Tryptophan, an amino acid, is responsible for the production and release of serotonin, the “happiness hormone”. Researchers have discovered that low amounts of tryptophan can negatively affect mood and memory, and provoke aggression. Many people with mood disorders take supplements with tryptophan to improve mood and memory, as well as decrease stress and irritability. But you don’t need to reach for a bottle of pills to make you happy. Tryptophan can also be found in foods, such as nuts, cheeses, red meats, beans, eggs, and poultry.
Nutritional psychiatrists understand the power of diet in terms of treating mental illnesses. Diet has been used in therapies for people with depression, dementia, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Researchers have found that diets heavy in fat and sugars can diminish neuron growth, particularly in the hippocampus. This region of the brain is responsible for memory and is typically smaller for people who have clinical depression.
Actually, sugars have a huge impact on mood. Think of your brain as a motor; it burns glucose (sugar in the blood) to run. The eliminated waste results in “free radicals”, which cause damage to cells through oxidation. Mood and mental well-being depend upon clean, healthy neurons to communicate effectively. Foods high in antioxidants can help prevent the damage caused by free radicals and other means of oxidation.
It’s not enough, however, to simply eat a brain-healthy diet. Lifestyle choices can dictate the foods you eat and the way your body utilizes nutrients. For instance, if you don’t get enough rest, you’re more likely to eat processed foods that are quick to prepare, or you eat on the run, meaning fast food and packaged snacks have become your source for sustenance. In addition, you probably consume drinks with more caffeine and sugar in an effort to stay alert, which ultimately make you crash and feel down. Coupled with being too tired to exercise, and you’ve concocted dangerous habits that impede psychological well-being. The results: poor concentration, low mood, fatigue, and possibly, depression.
How To Use Food To Fuel Your Brain
The prospects of starting a new diet may be overwhelming to some of you. You may even be thinking that you don’t need to diet, you’re healthy enough. But feeding your brain with the right nutrients may be enough to spark a major breakthrough in your individual development. Being mindful of the foods you consume will lead to other mindfulness activities. Taking control of your happiness and mental well-being is just as important as any other aspect of your health, and it will lead to a personal transformation.
For a better mood, eat more…
· fermented foods (soybean paste, sauerkraut, or yogurts with probiotics)
· whole foods (raw vegetables, fruits, unprocessed meats, and nuts)
· omega-3 fatty acids (fish, like salmon, albacore tuna, and lake trout; walnuts; or flaxseed)
· Mediterranean foods (legumes, cereals, fish, fruits, and vegetables)
· folates (dark green vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, and lentils)
· vitamin B12 (beef, cereals, tofu, and shellfish)
· vitamin D (cheese, egg yolks, salmon, and beef liver)
· selenium (seafood, legumes, lean meant and whole grains)
· tryptophan and protein (poultry and eggs)
· foods with antioxidants (fruits, nuts, and green tea)
And avoid consuming…
· too much caffeine
· too many carbohydrates (but don’t eat too little, instead, choose ones like fruits and whole grains)
· junk food (processed, and high in sugars, fat, and carbohydrates)
Also, make sure to take your time when eating and don’t use food to de-stress. By finding healthier means of stress relief and focusing on making food a part of your personal growth plan, you will foster positive habits that will affect your whole being.
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
Harding, T. (2013, May 1). Better Brain Chemistry with Tryptophan. Retrieved March 3, 2015, from http://www.lef.org/magazine/2013/5/Better-Brain-Chemistry-with-Tryptophan/Page-01
Magee, E. (2009, December 15). How Food Affects Your Moods. Retrieved March 3, 2015, from http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/how-food-affects-your-moods?page=2
Nelson, J., & Zeratsky, K. (2009, May 23). Nutrition and healthy eating. Retrieved March 3, 2015, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-blog/food-and-mood/BGP-20056183
Sea Gold, S. (2015, February 6). The Mood-Boosting Benefits of Food: Eat Healthier to Get Happier. Retrieved March 3, 2015, from http://www.yogajournal.com/article/clean-eating/eat-way-happy-food-mood-boosting-effects/