Do you ever think about how the foods you eat affect how you feel?
I have a friend who calls me up every once in a while to tell me he feels sluggish and depressed and can’t figure out why. Every time he calls, I ask him what he ate. Generally he has overindulged on ice cream, or has eaten a meal at a local fast food restaurant.
When he was young, my son used to have a temper tantrum a couple of hours after eating out at any restaurant that served fried foods.
Whenever I eat a lot of grains-as in a pasta based meal, or sweets- during the holidays, I feel tired and sleepy, and have “brain fog”.
Your Food is the Fuel for Your Brain
Your brain works hard every day- even when you are alseep. So it is only logical to feed your brain the very best nutrient rich fuel you can find. Diets high in simple carbohydrates, inflammatory trans-fats, and low in nutritional value actually damage the brain over time. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.
Feeding the Good Bacteria in Your Gut Improves Your Mood
Most people know that serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. What you might not know is that 95% of your body’s serotonin is produced in your “second brain”, your gastrointestinal tract. The types of bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract make an enormous difference in the health of your gut and the ability the absorb nutrients and activate neural pathways to your brain. Studies have shown that when people take probiotics and fermented foods, their anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook improve, compared with people who did not take probiotics.
How to Eat to Improve Your Mood
- Listen to your body after you eat. We all have foods that affect us more than others. Write a food diary, and pay attention to your energy level and how you feel mentally.
- Switch to a whole foods diet. As much as possible, prepare the food yourself, not depending on processed or “fast food”. Visit your local farmer’s market, plant a garden, buy local produce as much as possible. Eat plenty of vegetables, try going grain-free, and add nuts and seeds and lean protein.
- Keep your sweets for special treats, not in your daily diet.
- Try adding fermented foods: pickles, sauerkrout, and water kefir are my personal favorites.
- In this day and age, consistently finding healthy choices is difficult, so consider adding a high quality supplement to support your overall health, fish oil for the important omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics for digestive health.
Most importantly, enjoy the favors, textures, and joy of eating fresh, whole foods!
Further Research for my Science-Minded Friends:
Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food has links to original research on Nutritional Psychiatry.