We connect what we eat to our expanding waistlines but have you ever paused to tune in to the food-mood connection? Often we don't realize the emotional roller coaster ride from our wildly fluctuating blood sugar levels. We feel happy and energetic for a while and then suddenly inexplicably, we find ourselves arguing with our spouse or a friend. The truth is that the mind and body exist on an exquisite continuum, and profoundly impact one another.
The brain is essentially a chemical factory that produces a cascade of neurotransmitters—brain chemicals, such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and endorphins that pass messages between nerve cells in the brain. The raw materials for these neurotransmitters are amino acids, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. So, the good news is that you can beat the blues and dial down your crankiness and irritability just by changing what you eat. Consider some of these lesser known "secrets" of food and mood:
1. Discover the bitter truth about your sweet tooth.
The most common physiological trigger of negative moods is hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. Blood sugar, aka glucose, provides the energy that keeps your brain buzzing and your heart ticking. So it's no wonder there's a complicated hormonal system to nip and nudge at blood sugar to keep it in normal range. But you can mess with the system by overdoing foods that are high in simple carbohydrates. Foods, such as sugar, white bread, or anything refined causes your blood sugar to surge and then nose-dive an hour or two later, pushing your body's alarm buttons. After a crash, you'll feel crabby, shaky and prone to violent outbursts (yes, one of the most common causes of domestic violence is hypoglycemia, gulp!). And you'll end up grabbing chocolate bars or sugary drinks -- setting yourself up for yet another blood sugar dive.
Solution: Eat foods that sustain blood sugar the longest. The champions are: high quality fats (think coconut oil, almonds, avocadoes), high-protein foods such as wild salmon and grass fed beef, and whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat. The key is to have a slow, steady release of sugar into the bloodstream that in turn will signal a slow, steady release of insulin and keep you on an even keel.
2. Is your morning muffin wrecking your gut and your mood?
Foods most guilty of triggering reactive hypoglycemia are those that contain gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye and many people are intolerant to it. If you're one of those, you may not even know it, but you likely suffer from life-long digestive woes like bloating, gas, cramps and diarrhea. Gluten sensitivity can cause tears in the intestinal lining which then leads to malabsorption of nutrients and often causes depression, irritability, brain fog, and headaches.
Solution: Have your doctor test you for gluten intolerance or simply try an elimination diet where you refrain from gluten containing foods for one week (c'mon, you can try anything for just one week) and then reintroduce the offending foods to see if your symptoms return with a vengeance. A gluten-free diet is easier to live with these days as there's a plethora of gluten-free products--including pastas, breads, crackers—in health food stores. And just eliminating this one ingredient can provide significant relief from your digestive troubles and mood swings. Shopping tip: Shop the periphery of the store where you'll find all the fresh fruits, vegetables and produce and stay away from the middle aisles that house all the processed junk. Pasta/bread addict? Simply substitute with buckwheat noodles, quinoa or brown rice.
3. Caffeine: Don't wake up to this mood killer.
We turn to coffee, tea or Red Bull to get us going in the morning, but caffeine consumption is known to exacerbate jitters, irritability and anxiety. And it's also directly inhibiting your body’s production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that serves as our natural antidepressant, and affects mood, appetite, sleep, memory, learning, and some social behaviors. Common symptoms of serotonin deficiency include heart and intestinal issues, sleep problems, muscle pain, migraine headaches, and cravings for sugar, carbohydrates, and alcohol.
Solution: Upgrade your morning brew with water, herbal tea or teccinno (herbal coffee sans caffeine) to bid adieu to the afternoon energy crashes and moodiness.
4. The Great Fake Out: Nix the artificial sweeteners, colorings and preservatives
Artificial colors and flavorings such as food dyes and MSG are also known as “excito-toxins” because they excite our brain’s neurons to be overly active, and can even cause them to die. Consuming these additives has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases and mood disorders.
Solution: Stay far, far away from preservatives, flavor enhancers, aspartame, and food colorings by avoiding processed, colored foods and artificial sweeteners. Red velvet cakes and blue ice cream may be a visual treat but they'll bring on a black mood faster than storm clouds bringing rain.
Eating out tip: Tell your server you're sensitive to MSG or order steamed/grilled foods with sauces on the side. Also, skip the diet soda and replace with green tea or sparkling water.
5. Dear Diary
It can be difficult to connect your diet to your mood. What if you ate something two days ago that’s causing your depression, stomach pain or headache today? It can take three to four days for a food to manifest certain symptoms.
Solution: To better understand your eating patterns and how they’re affecting your body and mood, keep a food diary. Notice patterns in your digestion, sleep cycle, breathing, energy and mood levels right after eating and then two hours later. A food diary can be an excellent tool for charting these patterns.
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Rupina Meer is a Board-Certified Health Coach who received her training from the acclaimed Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN). Rupina's mission is to help her clients get radically honest with the relationship between what they eat and how they feel so that they can look and feel great from the inside out without diets, deprivation or dogma. Visit http://zen-trition.com/ to get instant access to a free eReport and discover the Top 5 Health Myths That Are Keeping You Fat, Fatigued & in a Funk.
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