You have likely heard the words, “You are what you eat.” But you also feel what you eat, is it possible then, to improve your mood with food? Research has shown there is in fact a relationship between food and mood. The food you consume has a profound impact on your overall health, including mood, stress level, and attitude. Food triggers chemical and physiological changes within the brain that alter your behavior and emotions.
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”
The Relationship Between Food And Mood
By now, you know that eating the right foods will help to ward off disease and keep you healthy. But the connection that many people have not yet made is that food can be our most powerful ally in alleviating moodiness, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and stress. Consuming the right micronutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals, fatty acids, amino acids, along with a good balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins), will help to keep disease away and your mind functioning more optimally.
Your physical body is not separate from what goes on in your mind. There is a mind/body connection – how your emotional and mental health affects your physical body and vice versa. Your thoughts and emotions play an important role in positively or negatively influencing your health because the brain is very dependent on mood-enhancing nutrition. Therefore, you owe it to yourself to learn what foods bum you out and which ones provide a positive happy outlook!
“In order to function properly, brain cells, like all body cells, need to be constantly supplied with molecules derived from the nutrients in the food you eat. Because the brain cells’ functions involve thinking, anything that results in less than optimal nutrition for the brain cells will result in less than optimal thinking by the brain.”
-Dr. William Vayda, Mood Foods
Improve Mood With Food – Gut/Brain Connection
A nickname for your gut is “the second brain.” Your intestinal tract is where all nutrients are absorbed by your body. So if your gut health is compromised by an imbalance of good and bad bacteria or your digestive tract isn’t working optimally (leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.), it’s no wonder that your moods are affected.
If you have a sensitivity to certain food/foods, it can have a dramatic effect on your mood. Many people have food sensitivities and don’t even know it! They are unaware of the connection to the symptoms (tired, crabby, depressed, headaches, joint pain, etc.) they are experiencing to what they ate 24-72 hours ago.
Food sensitivities are more common than you may think, one in three of you will experience a food sensitivity in your life. Many of these sensitivities go undiagnosed, leaving individuals to suffer from symptoms that are never traced back to their diet.
It’s been a long time since I knowingly ate gluten. We were in Chicago and I wanted some deep dish traditional Chicago pizza from Lou Malnati’s. So I ate a few pieces along with a big salad to get in my veggies. Prior to this experience, I chose to avoid gluten because it left me feeling bloated and constipated and overall just unpleasant.
What I hadn’t noticed or paid attention to in the past was my mood was after eating gluten. This time there was no way I wasn’t going to notice the effects on my mood. I had the pizza on our last night in Chicago and we were driving over 6 hours home the next day. For the next 48 hours, I was cranky, depressed, unmotivated, tired, and quite frankly unpleasant to be around. I knew those feelings all too well because I used to feel like that ALL THE TIME. At one point I was taking medication for anxiety and depression.
I hadn’t felt like that in so long that it was VERY clear that it had to do with something I had eaten. GLUTEN and refined carbohydrates were the culprit. Since changing my diet to one that includes protein, lots of non-starchy vegetables, healthy fats, and limits sugar and caffeine as well as putting more of a focus on sleep, movement, and stress management my moods have improved dramatically!
Eating foods that you are sensitive to puts constant stress on your digestive system, immune system, and compromises your vitality. Loss of vitality can lead to depression, lethargy, and brain fog.
The most common foods that people are sensitive to are:
- Gluten (the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye)
- Dairy (especially cows’ milk)
- Nightshades (eggplant, tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers, and any spices that include peppers)
Caffeine in small to moderate amounts, can for some people enhance physical and mental performance. The problem is when the stimulant wears off, you can dip into fatigue and brain fog. Too much caffeine can spur anxiety, nervousness, mood swings, and sleep disturbances along with inhibiting serotonin (your happy brain chemical).
More than one cup a day of caffeine can be counterproductive.
Need some alternatives?
Green tea is full of antioxidants and can also help fight depression. Try other herbal teas such as licorice root or peppermint. A wonderful alternative to coffee is Dandy Blend. Dandy Blend is a natural herbal “coffee’ that has helped many people get rid of coffee for good. This is what I drink in the morning or afternoon when I want a yummy warming drink.
To improve mood, cut down on your caffeine intake. Start by cutting your consumption in half, if you drink 4 cups of coffee per day, reduce it to 2. Then get yourself to a place where you are just consuming 1 cup before noon each day. Ultimately getting to a place of drinking green or herbal teas. I encourage EVERYONE to go through a period of time when they completely let go of caffeine to identify if they actually feel better off of it.
Manage Blood Sugar
Food is the fuel that your body runs on. Skipping meals throughout the day will likely leave you feeling tired and cranky. It’s like trying to drive your car without gas. If you go too long without eating, your blood sugar can drop too low and mood swings will almost always follow. I refer to this feeling as being “hangry,” hungry, and angry. I’ve been there and it is not a place you want to visit on a regular basis. My guess is that you too can think of a time when you were “hangry.”
And no, I am not saying that you need to eat 6 small meals every day. Honestly, I believe that nutrition methodology was based on supplement companies making money off of shakes and bars, because who has time to prepare that much food?
Dr. John Douillard provides the best argument against mini meals. “We are not meant to have our metabolism revved up all day. It depletes and exhausts the adrenals (which ultimately causes fat storage) and never gives the digestion a rest. While we won’t store fat eating every 2-3 hours, we also will never burn any stored body fat. Cancer causing toxins are stored in our fat cells and the fat needs a reason to burn.
“With blood sugar artificially propped up from constant feeding, the ability to make energy last is replaced with fragile energy, constant hunger, mood instability, and extreme cravings if a meal or snack is missed.”
One of the first steps to managing your blood sugar is eating a breakfast rich in protein. Many individuals fuel with caffeine or run out the door on an empty stomach…not a good idea. Breakfast has one of the single greatest impacts on your mood for the day. A cup of coffee and a donut or muffin does not constitute as breakfast. A nutrient-dense breakfast that includes protein, non-starchy vegetables, and healthy fat, will help to set your mood, energy level, and metabolic rate for the day.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), has a huge impact on mood. The symptoms of hypoglycemia include but are not limited to: irritation, the shakes, dizziness, getting short and snippy, getting emotional to the point of wanting to cry, anger, impatience, and need to eat NOW. If hypoglycemia is not properly managed, it can lead to diabetes and is often referred to as “prediabetes.”
I’ve been there and I’m sure many of you have too. I can go from perfectly pleasant to bitchy in a matter of just a couple minutes. Those close to me have likely experience the shift in me and know that I need food in the form of protein, FAST!!!
Depression makes the cells in the body more resistant to insulin, and studies have shown that diabetics are twice as likely to be depressed than someone who is not diabetic.
Managing blood sugar is one of the most important things you can do to manage your weight and mood, and increase your longevity. Dr. Mark Hyman has a wonderful book titled, The Blood Sugar Solution with more in depth information.
Below are some tips for managing blood sugar taken directly from Dr. Hyman…
- Stop eating flour and sugar products, especially high-fructose corn syrup.
- Don’t drink liquid calories in juice or soda. Your body doesn’t feel full from them, so you eat more all day.
- Stop consuming all processed, junk, or packaged foods. If it doesn’t look like the food your great grandmother ate, stay away.
- Stop eating trans or hydrogenated fats.
- Slow the rate of sugar uptake from the gut by balancing your meals with healthy protein (nuts, seeds, beans, small wild fish, organic chicken, grass-fed beef), healthy carbs (vegetables, fruit, beans), and healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts & seeds, grass-fed butter, fish oil).
- Eat plenty of soluble fiber (30 to 50 grams per day).
- Make your cells smarter by giving them an oil change with omega-3 fats, which help to fix cell membranes so that they can more easily receive the messages from insulin. Consider taking a high-quality supplement like Prograde Krill Oil to increase your levels of omega-3 fats.
- Move your body. Exercise improves your cells’ ability to work better, respond to insulin better, and burn sugar faster.
- Relax! Stress reduction also helps improve blood sugar control.
- Make your cells more efficient by increasing specific nutrients such as: chromium, vanadium, magnesium, vitamin E, biotin, the B vitamins, zinc, bioflavonoids, and compounds including alpha lipoic acid, arginine, and carnitine. Consider taking a high quality multi-vitamin like Prograde’s VGF 25+, even if you are eating a diet rich in organic plant compounds you can still benefit for a multivitamin.
Food Mood Boosters
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Dark orange vegetables (pumpkin, squash, etc.)
- Broth soups
- Nuts – especially walnuts
- Wild-caught salmon
- Fermented foods
To enhance mood, eat a balanced nutrient-dense diet, full of whole foods. Your brain consumes more energy than any other organ in the body. There is a BIG difference between eating a meal of fresh, organic plants, properly raised protein, and healthy fats and eating a plate full of dead, processed, “food-like” substances. The latter increases toxicity, inflammation, and nutritional deficiencies. The former, promotes health, vitality, and optimal brain function.