Eating the right food is most often emphasized as having the ability to positively affect a person’s energy levels, improve strength and physical performance, aid in weight loss and lower your risk against chronic illnesses. Adding more to the benefits of a healthy and nutrient-rich diet is its ability to affect your daily mood.
The link between what you are eating and your mood has been getting attention in the nutritional world. With a widening understanding on the role of food on blood sugar regulation, hormone control and the gut-brain connection, it’s more likely to gain further investigation. Your way of eating and relationship with food connects with your emotional health and your personal well-being as a whole.
The Role of Blood Sugar
Blood sugar plays a major role in your personal daily mood. Your choices, or specifically, the amount of blood sugar (blood glucose) in your food have the ability to trigger a variety of emotional responses in you. In short, what you choose to eat will either make you happy or irritable.
Your body processes and breaks down whatever you eat and converts some of it into glucose. Blood sugar, which moves through your bloodstream, is the main source of energy for your brain and your whole body.
Insulin and glucagon are the two primary hormones that control and regulate the level of blood sugar in your body. They determine what is needed to be used and what can be stored for future use. Eating simple carbohydrates (i.e. soda, cereal, white bread) cause your blood sugar levels to dramatically rise and then suddenly crash. When this happens, your blood glucose gets very low, causing you to become irritable, tired, anxious or nervous.
If the simple sugars that you have eaten have more added sugar, the blood sugar spike and crash can even be more significant. This why eating food full of added sugar (cake and soda) without any other protein or fiber to slow down the glucose spike will have you feeling tired, irritable and even more hungry not long afterward.
Serotonin and Systemic Inflammation
Certain foods also have the ability to affect how your body releases serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone, in your brain. Aside from the feeling of contentment and happiness, serotonin also plays a role in making you feel more full from the food you’re eating.
Some research has suggested that depressive tendencies, impulsiveness, hostility and aggression can be linked to the low intake and consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. These negative behaviors may be triggered by low-levels of serotonin, since consuming food high in omega-3’s is connected to elevated mood and decreased depression.
Food rich in omega-3’s not only increase the amount of serotonin in your body, it also has the ability to reduce systemic inflammation. Omega-3-rich food such as walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed and salmon play a major role in mood improvement and regulating inflammation.
Chronic systemic inflammation causes C-reactive proteins in your body to increase, which in turn can be associated with increased risk of depressive tendencies.
Healthy Gut, Healthy Brain
Recent studies have also shown the significant role the gastrointestinal system in regulating your emotions. The bacteria in your body affects what you are feeling – anger, sadness, anxiety and even joy.
It has been noted that the brain has a direct effect on your stomach (gut). Some situations have proven this to be true, like when a person is scared, he can also feel nauseous because of the fear. This gut-brain connection goes both ways. Your gut can also directly affect your brain and send signals that can trigger emotional responses.
The gut-brain connection can best be observed when you are in stressful situations. Eating an unhealthy and unnatural diet can produce inflammation in your digestive system. This can result in triggers from gut to the brain that can increase your cortisol level (stress hormone), the hormone that is connected with your “fight or flight” stress response.
As a result, if your gut is not performing optimally, you most likely won’t be either. When your gut system (including the bacteria and enzymes in your gut) is out of balance, you may feel nervous, quick-tempered, irritable, restless, and have a tendency to succumbed to bad habits like smoking, overeating and drinking too much.
Foods to Eat
Eat more green, leafy vegetables, fresh fruits and other food rich in fiber to encourage your gut to produce healthy enzymes and maintain microbial diversity. You can also include prebiotic food (onions, garlic, whole wheat, bananas, beans) in your diet. They are food that your gut bacteria use to thrive. You can add more oily fish (like salmon) and dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa).
Mood – Boosting Snacks. For an in-between-meals mood boost try the following:
- homemade granola
- oat crackers with almond butter and banana
- green beans
- broccoli with hummus
- green smoothie with avocado and banana
- yogurt with cinnamon
- yogurt with nuts and seeds
Avoid processed food and those that are loaded with sugar like diet drinks, cola, candy, and fast food. Also, take time to note how certain foods are affecting you emotionally. Be mindful of the connection between what you eat and your mood as a result. This can go a long way towards helping you improve your habits so you are driving your emotions in the right perspective.