Food for Mood
A recent survey found that rude behavior is more common now than it was 30 years ago. Another study found 16 million Americans admitting to having occasional explosive outbursts of rage. Although there are inherent mental disorders that are not caused by diet, there are studies that point to the food-mood connection.
Sociologists and nutritionists blame two factors: the mounting stresses of modern life and the deterioration in eating habits. Unfortunately, the more stressed we get (and who doesn’t experience stress in their life), the more our eating habits slide. We skip meals or delay them until our hunger is so strong that the nearest fast food find seems like the easiest and quickest response.
The problem with filling those hunger needs with fast food and junk food is that they are generally loaded with sugar and salt, part of the reason the taste is very appealing. Sugary foods can turn our own blood sugar levels into a roller coaster ride, setting off mood swings that would match anything at Magic Mountain.
Keep a Journal
Start by becoming aware of how you feel after eating. Journal about it but keep in mind that food can affect the way you feel up to 36 hours after it was consumed. If your blood sugar climbs too high (eating something sweet), you might get sleepy. High blood sugar levels suppress orexin, a brain chemical responsible for alertness. If your blood sugar is too low, you get hungry, impatient, irritable, and perhaps weak. If your diet isn’t swinging from high glycemic (blood sugar) to low glycemic foods but you still experience these swings, it could be a symptom of poor glucose intolerance and perhaps pre-diabetes.
How can you stabilize your moods and these blood sugar swings? First, avoid sugary sweets, candy, soft drinks, white flour bagels, muffins, and desserts. Your blood sugar and your mood will more likely remain stable while eating lean proteins and high fiber vegetables such as salads, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc. Even a few slices of turkey meat with cheese can help stabilize blood sugar and irritable moods quickly.
Neuronutrients and the Brain
Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, make neuronutrients which in turn feed the neurotransmitters that help regulate the brain. Although many emotional issues have deeper causes than what you just ate for dinner, research conducted at the University of Wales found that the first signs of vitamin and mineral deficiency are irritability and fatigue. Some supplements that are needed and often lacking in the SAD (standard American diet) are a high-potency B-complex supplement. It should be ten times more than the RDA recommendation of vitamins B1, B2, and B3. By the way, the RDA recommendations are outdated and were set low to prevent “clinical disease”. Along with B vitamins, 1,000 mg of vitamin C, and at least 1.5 g of DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) found in omega-3 fish oils should be consumed daily. Most Americans are not getting enough of these important omega-3 oils which are anti-inflammatory and found in salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, and herring most abundantly. Also excellent are flaxseed oils and hemp and chia seeds. If you aren’t getting these foods in your diet on a regular basis, you should include a high quality omega-3 supplement that includes DHA because it can reduce aggressive and hostile behavior such as fighting and verbal abusiveness. And all of these nutrients help the brain cells communicate with each other.
What about anxiety?
Because the effects of caffeine can mimic the early symptoms of an anxiety attack, it’s important to wean yourself from caffeinated sodas and coffee. Low blood sugar can also result in a feeling of anxiety, so again, avoid sugary foods and refined carbohydrates that spike and drop the blood sugar down too low. The same supplements mentioned earlier to help irritability can help with anxiety, worry, and fear. Add to these above supplements 600mg of magnesium citrate to help relax muscles.Caffeine formula
Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that regulate mood with serotonin being one of the most well known. Low serotonin levels are associated with depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Your body converts L-tryptophan from poultry, beef, pork, and fish to make serotonin.
GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) is a calming neurotransmitter and helps the brain filter out “background noise”. It helps to calm the nerves and improve mental focus. L-theanine, found in green tea, helps as well.
Need a Boost?
L-tyrosine is a neuronutrient that helps make our stimulating neurotransmitters such as dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. L-tyrosine is helpful on “down” days, for poor concentration, and when having trouble engaging in life’s activities.
None of these supplements should be taken purely to cure symptoms. Always consult a healthcare practitioner to help find the root cause for mood swings, whether it’s dietary, mental or emotional stressors, or inherent problems that require more support.
Chef Suzanne Landry is author of The Passionate Vegetable and Fresh Food Matters available at www.ThePassionateVegetable.com or Amazon, Whole Foods, and several other local retailers in Santa Barbara.
Top photograph from StockFreeImages.com; remaining photographs from Dreamstime.com.