by Kris Parfitt
- The Capitol Hill Times -
“I’ve noticed lately that if I don’t have something to eat for three or four hours, I get irritated and moody. But sometimes what I eat can cause me, also, to get irritated and moody. The people around me often ask me if I’ve eaten lately, which is my cue that either I haven’t and I need to, or I have and it’s affecting how I feel. I understand that foods can affect our moods, but what can I eat to make sure that my moods stay stable?” – Claire Mc.
That’s a great question, and one that is a common problem. First, get tested for hypoglycemia, an in-active or hyper-active thyroid, vitamin D levels, and diabetes. Then treat the results accordingly with guidance from a trained medical and nutritional practitioner. There isn’t a secret formula that fits everyone when it comes to the connection of foods and moods, because like our individual fingerprint, our bio-individuality affects how our bodies absorb and use the nutrients from the food that we consume.
However, if we want to feel consistently bad then we should sit often, drink a lot of caffeinated sugary drinks and very little water, eat a high-fat-glycemic-sodium enriched diet, and get very little sleep, then consume a lot of stimulants to override the afternoon blahs. Regardless of bio-individuality, this would most likely result in a not-so-pleasant demeanor. Not only would our energy levels bottom out and our blood sugars be on a rollercoaster ride, our bowel regularity would be impacted, literally, and that puts any decent person in a bad mood.
If a stable, consistent good mood and high level of energy is desired, keep reading.
Now that Puxatawny Phil’s shadow has declared another six weeks of winter, the quality and quantity of our food, sleep and exercise are all important factors for attaining and sustaining a good mood.
While unhealthy foods have an impact on our moods and energy levels, so do healthy foods. A well-balanced diet is a great place to start, but it takes some experimentation to find which food combinations support good moods.
Following a few guidelines will promote a healthier lifestyle, which, in turn, empowers us to continue keeping our diets better balanced, thus resulting in feeling better about our choices, and experiencing a more consistent rate of good moods.
How we track our experimentation with food and our moods is ultimately up to us. We cannot blame anyone but ourselves if we feel crappy after gorging ourselves with a high-processed food binge.
Beyond food, we can increase happier feelings by exercising regularly. Movement could be as mild as standing up from our sitting positions and taking a brisk walk, or doing squats or lunges to get our blood moving. We can also increase the quality and quantity of our sleep by drinking less caffeine in the evenings, turning off our computer screens a few hours before bedtime and practicing breathing activities such as yoga or meditation.
Food can be our medicine when it comes to increasing and sustaining a good mood. When our blood sugars are steady and our gastrointestinal tract is healthy we experience less fluctuation in dopamine and serotonin levels and, thusly, better happier moods. When natural light levels decrease in the winter, the levels of dopamine (the chemical that makes us feel joyful, excited and more energetic) and serotonin (a neurotransmitter secreted through the GI that is contributed to our feelings of well-being and happiness) decrease.
Dopamine can be increased by eating a diet well-balanced in proteins and carbs. A diet heavy in protein and light in simple or complex carbs isn’t enough to raise dopamine, and a diet light in proteins and heavy in carbs causes an influx in insulin, which results in sudden changes in blood sugar levels and, ultimately, our moods.
Serotonin levels can be increased by eating dates, papayas, and bananas, along with a temporary winter diet that is slightly heavier on complex carbs (fruits and veggies) and slightly lighter on proteins.
Clearly, becoming aware of our eating habits will have an impact on our moods. Avoiding diets rich in highly processed foods and sugars that have any trans-fats, artificial sugars, excess sodium, and other chemical by-products is a start. They may provide a short-term feeling of energy and productivity, but the cost is feeling lousy later and unwanted weigh gain. Or, if avoiding them isn’t an easy or immediate solution, at least decrease those ingredients to a small snack once a day rather than a side-dish or main entrée at every meal.
Sustain a better mood by eating a diet well-balanced in animal or plant-based proteins, complex carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables, healthy fats like omega-3, staying hydrated by drinking more non-caffeinated and non-sugary liquids, meeting the sleep needs that our bodies require for quality brain and physical performance, and getting enough exercise to burn calories, strengthen muscles, and get the blood moving.
Moods can be altered not just by diet, sleep and exercise, but also by external influences like work, drugs, or personal relationships, or internal influences like hormones, genes or how we perceive the world around us. Being mindful of how will control our external and internal influences, and our reactions to them, also impacts our mood.
In summary, being an advocate for our own good mood simply means managing internal and external stresses, eating well, sleeping enough and moving around, all in mindful, balanced amounts.
Have a nutrition question for Kris? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org