Eating Better Foods Sharpens the Mind
Discover the ways that food has an impact on your mood and how changing your food choices can make you feel better.
In this article, we break down 8 ways that food affects your mood. This interesting connection between the mind and body is one to take seriously, as the food you eat can have serious impacts on how you feel day to day and in your life overall. If you don’t always feel your best, your diet could be the answer.
- Blood sugar levels are affected by the food you eat.
When you haven’t eaten for a while, or when your body is depleted of energy, your blood sugar levels will drop. This can also occur when you feed your body very high sugar foods, then experience an energy spike and crash that leads to feelings of exhaustion, irritability or tiredness. This occurs because chemicals such as glucose are produced when you consume high sugar, high glycemic foods. Glucose is energy that is burned very quickly by the body, so you experience a rush of energy and then a feeling of depletion shortly after (this could be 1-2 hours, depending on your body’s metabolic rate and what you ate).
- Food high in protein releases energy more slowly.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which our body uses to construct its own proteins. These proteins are used to build and repair tissues as well as make enzymes, hormones, skin, bones, muscles – the list goes on!
Your brain also uses amino acids in the process of regulating your thoughts and feelings. Proteins are used to make certain brain chemicals that send messages to other parts of the body. For example, serotonin is produced when we consume an amino acid called L-tryptophan, which produces feelings of relaxation, happiness and helps regulate sleep, appetite, digestion, memory and sexual function. You can find L-tryptophan in foods such as chocolate, oats, dairy products, meat, fish, chickpeas, sesame, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, buckwheat and spirulina.
There are nine essential amino acids in total, which can be found in foods that contain all nine of them, called complete proteins, or from various sources. It is important to consume all essential amino acids from both plant and animal sources, and from these “complete” proteins such as eggs, tofu, meat, dairy, quinoa, hempseed and blue-green algae.
Protein also plays a role in controlling blood sugar levels, which further contributes to mood regulation.
- Eat the right fats.
Eating the right fats is very important to brain health. Healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, can be used to help the brain function more efficiently. Think of them as the grease for a squeaky wheel. They are important for learning and memory, which is why omega-3 and DHA are especially recommended to pregnant women, infants, children and seniors for optimal brain health & development during these periods of life. Nonetheless, it is important to eat a diet rich in omega-3s to maintain your brain health and prevent a decline in function as you age. Getting into good routines as a younger adult is a great way to ensure healthy routines and habits as you age.
You also need to ensure that you are getting the right ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your diet. Unfortunately, the Western diet leans heavily on the omega-6 side of this ratio. We should ideally aim to have an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of 1:10 or lower. Anything higher than this ratio can throw the body out of balance and increase the risk of disease including cardiovascular disease, cancer and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
Good sources of omega-3 rich foods are:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, oysters and anchovies
- Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
- Chia seeds
- Soybean oil
- Certain brands of eggs and dairy products
- Stay hydrated.
When you are dehydrated, you can begin to feel thirsty, tired, experience headaches or even “face restrictions” in the bathroom. It’s possible that these physical conditions can make you more irritable and prone to drastic mood swings, have little energy to put towards: socializing, exercising and other productive tasks. Hydration is extremely important to the brain, which is made up of 75% water. Decline in hydration as small as even 2% can have negative effects on brain functions. Severe dehydration can cause symptoms such as confusion, drowsiness, memory loss and other symptoms that look like dementia.
Be especially diligent about hydration if you take diuretics (including coffee and tea) or laxatives, suffer from diabetes, experience high blood pressure or diarrhea, and if you follow a keto diet. In ketogenesis, you tend to hold on to less water (hence frequent urination) and lose electrolytes more easily, which means you must work extra hard to stay hydrated all day.
Water is always the best option for pure hydration, but you can also try drinking herbal teas, diluted iced or cold brew tea and fruit juices, or naturally flavoured tonic waters. Also check out these revolutionary new beverages from Farmaroot: Empower and Enlight are natural energy drinks that provide you with a full daily dose of ginseng extract for powerful rehydration and a caffeine- and sugar-free boost of energy. Give our post on homemade sports recovery drinks a read if you’re into working out and are looking for healthy and natural options.
- Eat a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables!
“Eat the rainbow!” is what they should say about fruits and vegetables, not Skittles, unfortunately. Different coloured fruits and vegetables are indications of the presence of different vitamins and minerals. The fruits with the highest amounts of vitamins and minerals tend to be dark red or dark green in colour. You can also find different vitamins, such as vitamin C and antioxidant beta carotene, in bright orange, red and yellow-coloured fruits and vegetables. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and keeping track of all the colours you’ve eaten that day is a great and easy reminder to yourself to get a range of nutrients from your diet.
Fruits and vegetables also contain high amounts of fibre, which can again help our bodies regulate blood sugar levels and move digestive processes along. This can elevate our overall mood and feelings throughout the day.
- Cut down on caffeine.
Having too much caffeine can make you feel anxious or depressed, disturb your sleep and produce withdrawal symptoms if you cut out all at once. All of these conditions can make your mood worsen and contribute to poor mental health. Remember that caffeine is in things like coffee and tea, but also chocolate, sodas and energy drinks. If you consume high amounts of caffeine during the day, you might want to consider eliminating caffeine all together or cutting it down to the equivalent of 1-2 cups of coffee (100 – 200mg) per day.
- Gut health is important.
Your gut is responsible for many aspects of your brain function and mood – hence the sayings “mind-body connection” and “gut feeling”. This is because the stomach and the brain transport a lot of chemicals between each other. This nutrient & brain connection is also what tells us when we’re hungry and full. That is why it is important to take care of your gut by consuming foods that promote growth of healthy and diverse gut microflora.
Gut-healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, yogurt and kefir, fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut, as well as probiotic supplements. Be sure to introduce these foods slowly to your diet, as it can take some time for changes in your gut to occur. The bacteria that currently exist in your gut may not be well suited for the new types of food you start feeding them right away. You can start by eliminating foods that especially upset the gut microflora such as processed foods, unhealthy fats and oils, high sugar foods, excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine and not enough fibre from vegetables. Then, you can introduce more of these foods for optimal gut health.
- Understand food intolerances.
Some people can have subtle or chronic underlying food intolerances that either cause them to become sensitive to certain foods or have serious effects on their mental and physical health. If you suspect that you might be intolerant to something, most clinics will offer some kind of test for food intolerances. Mild intolerances can be treated through elimination of those foods in the diet, which can help relieve symptoms such as bloating, irritability, indigestion and headaches.
Our bonus tip is to be patient. If you make any new changes to your diet, understand that it may take time for you to start feeling the mental and physical health benefits, but please don’t give up! Results tend to lie in consistency and if you notice after a while that you still don’t feel your best, see what other small changes you can make until you have reached your desired goals!
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