"I don't eat junk food; I don't have junk thoughts." -- Peace Pilgrim
Do you think a diet is just for losing or gaining weight? Think again!
The word diet literally means "a daily food allowance." We need food for growth, repair and energy for our daily activity.
But did you ever think about how food can affect your mood? The foods you eat can affect both glucose and insulin, and their levels can affect your moods and clear thinking.
Don't worry, you're not alone if you feel sleepy, stressed, or if you notice a change in your energy level after lunch. This is because your blood sugar levels rise after you eat, and your body suppresses the production of orexin -- a chemical in your brain that's responsible for making you feel alert.
And when you are really hungry, your blood sugar levels are low and your brain starts taking control, often making you feel impatient and angry.
But in the food/mood relationship, changing blood sugar levels is really only the beginning. Don't forget that the food that fuels your body also feeds your brain. The nutrient building blocks for your brain chemicals -- called neurotransmitters -- affect how we feel, our thoughts and our behavior. The correct neurotransmitter levels in our brain are so important in improving our mood and well-being.
We all experience stress and mood swings -- an extreme change of mood -- in our daily lives. Healthy food choices have a positive effect on our behavior, improve our moods and reduce stress. Our food choices are directly linked to our life choices -- you can choose nutrient-low food, or you can choose better quality food that will power your brain, clear your thinking, and lift up your mood.
So what can we do to control our moods?
First, use food as your medicine for your mental health and well-being. Here's a few examples you can add to your diet to improve your mood and happiness.
When you are under stress and anxious: chocolate
When we feel stressed, we often make less-healthy food choices. And under stress it's really so hard to control what we eat. Are you likely to choose a salad when you're really stressed?
The fat and sugar content in chocolate can actually increase both serotonin and endorphin levels.
Cocoa is a rich source of dietary polyphenols. And the cacao flavonoids can help boost mood and sustain clear thinking.
So it's no surprise you want to reach for chocolate when you're feeling low. Just make sure you choose 75 percent dark chocolate so that you see the health benefits.
One ounce of cacao has 45 mg of magnesium to enhance positive mood states. One ounce dark chocolate also has 20 mg caffeine though, so make sure you watch your portion size!
Difficulty concentrating, mental fuzziness: coffee
Coffee does briefly increase mental clarity and concentration. But be careful: Too much caffeine can actually create cravings, depression, insomnia, mood swings and lack of concentration.
Make sure you choose organic coffee, and instead of milk or cream try adding coconut oil or grass fed butter. The healthy fats in these will feed your brain too.
Remember 1 cup of coffee has 120 mg of caffeine, so watch how much you drink.
Lack of sleep or overeating: protein and healthy fats
Eat healthy sources of protein such as eggs, chicken, grass fed beef or wild fish and sardines. You can also add flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, dark green veggies and avocado.
These omega-3 protein sources influence serotonin -- a chemical that works as a neurotransmitter responsible for maintaining mood balance. You can also naturally increase your serotonin levels with exercise.
Fatigue, depression or worry: hazelnuts or tea
Hazelnuts. These are very high in energy and loaded with numerous health-benefiting nutrients, and they're also rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids and a great source of minerals like manganese, potassium, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium. They have a high content of dietary fiber too, that helps promote neurotransmitters.
I love hazelnuts, I used to eat a lot of fresh hazelnuts growing up in Turkey!
Tea has also always been associated with mood performance benefits, such as relaxation and concentration. Recent meta-analyses have confirmed that positive mood states lead to improved creative problem solving compared with neutral mood states.
Try to drink lots of herbal tea and black tea. Or maybe you like to try one of my favorites, sage tea.
So why are these foods important, and helpful?
New research is increasingly showing a direct link between your diet and your mind. Mood disorders actually change how and what you choose to eat -- there is a very strong connection between what you eat and your success at work and in your personal life.
You need to eat more whole foods that are rich in nutrients so you can get enough vitamins and minerals to support your neurotransmitters.
Try also using relaxing response techniques, self-talk or meditation. Even just five minutes a day can really help release your tension and anxiety. You will almost immediately feel much more relaxed, and you will make healthier choices during the day.
Remember when you feed your body, you feed your brain too. Try to start really noticing how much effect different foods have on your mood swings. You will be surprised at the results!
Recommended reading: The Food Mood Solution by Jack Challem.
Recommended video: Food and Mood: The Nutrition Connection on UCTV.
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