Food and mood connection. Food has always been associated with keeping the body healthy by providing valuable nutrients and vitamins. What is often overlooked is the food and mood connection.
Food plays an important role in balancing our moods and emotions. The role of a person’s eating habits in determining the risks for diseases has already been proven and is well known. But the foods we eat have a huge impact on our mood too. And there is food that can improve your mood, reduce anxiety and help you deal with the stress in your life. As well as food that can lower your mood, contribute to anxiety and actually decrease your ability to deal with stress.
Historical records across the millennia clearly indicate that there is a pervasive belief that food influences our total well-being. The Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, once said to “let food be our medicine, and medicine be our food.”
For the most part of the last century, various studies have been done to determine the effects of certain foods on the brain – its structure, physiology and chemistry – that affects our moods and performance – the food and mood connection. On the other hand, our moods also influence our cravings for certain types of foods, and affect our perceptions on its effects. Studies have shown that foods which have the greatest effects on moods are those that directly influence the brain neurotransmitter systems. These substances are important for sleeping, concentration, a person’s weight and mood.
Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that are released to facilitate communication between our brain and body. Neurotransmitters are also largely responsible for the moods that we experience or exhibit. The levels of these neurotransmitters in our body can be either too high, low or unevenly balanced. Depending on the types and levels of neurotransmitters present, we can experience a feeling of loss of motivation or emotion, erratic swings of emotions or can lead to some behavioral issues.
A lot of factors affect the production of neurotransmitters in our brain and it is very unpredictable. Some of them are genetic predisposition, environmental and chemical exposures. Our health and the food we eat are also active factors in the production of neurotransmitters in our brain. There are two types of neurotransmitters and, depending on how they act within our body, they can be classified as Inhibitory or Excitatory.
Inhibitory neurotransmitters do not have stimulating effects on the brain. These affect the brain in a calming, soothing way and help to balance our mood. They are also easily consumed by the brain when levels of excitatory neurotransmitters, or its production, is very high.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is necessary to balance any over-production of excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain. Serotonin also helps our body in regulating carbohydrate craving, pain control, proper digestion and better sleep cycles. Low serotonin levels are also thought to be a factor in the decrease of immune system function. GABA, or Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, is a neurotransmitter widely distributed in the brain to attempt to counteract any over-firing of stimulating neurotransmitters. Its effect is often compared to a Valium-like effect in the brain.
Excitatory neurotransmitters, as the name implies, stimulates the brain. Imbalances in these can cause mood swings but these neurotransmitters also facilitate concentration.
Dopamine is mainly responsible for our focus. When the levels are either high or low, we can start having focus issues. This may lead to some short-term memory loss such as forgetting where we placed our keys, or forgetting what we have just read or simply daydreaming and losing focus – brain fog. Dopamine is also responsible for motivating us to finish the task at hand. Over-stimulation can easily deplete the supply of dopamine in our brains.
Norepineprhine is another type that is necessary for the stimulatory processes. At high levels this substance can lead to anxiety, while depletion may cause tiredness, low motivation, decreased focus and sleeping problems.
Epineprhine is the one that is reflective of stress. At elevated levels, a person may show symptoms of hyper-activity. Prolonged periods of stress or insomnia may lead to its depletion. This neurotransmitter is necessary in the regulation of the heart rate and blood pressure.
The Food And Mood Connection
While there are many factors affecting the production of neurotransmitters and the food and mood connection, the once factor that we can have absolute control of is the food that we eat. Eating a healthy diet does not only have health benefits for your body, but mental health benefits as well. Eating healthy foods and avoiding foods that do not serve us can actually have a profound affect on your moods in more ways than one. Here are some of my top tips to improving your mood with whats on your plate.
The first thing to avoid in when wanting to improve the food and mood connection is to avoid sugary foods and drinks. It’s amazing the effect sugar has on my mood, sure a treat every now and then but if I have too much sugar I become irritable, anxious and just not my usual happy self.
There are many studies that prove a link between sugar and food addiction. It has been shown that when people are binging on food, they reach for sweets because they have the same triggering effect that certain drugs have for the brain’s pleasure centers. Sugar is also linked to stress. When we are under a lot of stress, our body craves sugar for that quick boost of energy. It is better to lower stress levels by exercising or trying a restorative practice like yoga or meditation.
Carbs or No Carbs?
To improve our moods, it is not advisable to shun all carbohydrates. But you need to be choosing the right ones! There are some carbs that helps in the production of trytophan, an amino acid that is the fuel for serotonin production. The more serotonin in the brain, the more our mood improves. Avoid eating refined carbohydrates however (these are just like sugar) and get your carbs from real food sources of whole grains.
Eating good sources of protein such as eggs, fish, whole nuts, whole grains, yogurt and cheese is also beneficial in the production of serotonin. Amino acids are the building blocks of neurotransmitters. Protein also helps in regulating the levels of blood sugar. Eating high-quality and organic meat can help improve your mood also.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Consume foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. These are basically brain fuel. Your brain needs fatty oils to function properly, so instead of shunning all fats, try to choose wisely which fats you eat. Healthy fats can be sourced from fish, flaxseed, olives or avocados just to name a few.
This ones controversial. People I work with get really attached to their coffee and for some people a moderate amount of coffee so 1-2 cups per day is totally fine. But for other people, especially people who are already overly stressed or anxious coffee just adds to the stress hormones in the body already being produced and can make it harder for you to deal with stressful events as they occur.
So avoid over-indulging in caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant. Too much intake results in the overproduction of excitatory neurotransmitters that may result to anxiousness, depression and an irregular sleep cycle. Worse yet, caffeine is an addictive substance and may lead to withdrawal symptoms when suddenly taken out of our diet.
Lastly I was reading some interesting nutrigenetics research actually that showed that there is actually a gene that determines whether coffee will be beneficial for you or not beneficial for you. They were actually looking specifically at the effect of caffeine on your risk of heart attacks but it was just further evidence of bio-individuality.
Can Supplements Help?
Proper supplementation with essential vitamins and minerals can lead to better moods. Vitamins B and D assist in the production of amino acids and serotonin. Magnesium, selenium and potassium are also some minerals that have shown some promising results in battling depression and low mood. These are all part of the food and mood connection.
So What You Eat Does Affect How You Feel
The science of the food and mood connection is a complex one. Depending on the factors present, it varies from person to person, or group to group. While there is no exact blueprint of how to eat for a better mood, keeping your diet healthy and balanced has been shown to have beneficial effects on a person’s state of mind. Aside from giving us a healthy body, a well-balanced meal also helps keeps our minds healthy.
Have you tried experimenting with the food and mood connection?
What did you find?
Or have you added a food into your diet which improved or negatively affected your mood? We would love to hear your experiences in the comments below.
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