Friday, March 18, 2011

Mood Food

by Yvette Rochelle Pritchard, CNP, NNCP

Balancing and maintaining mood through food choices is not only possible, it is advantageous.  Understanding the mechanical workings of the human body as well as which nutrients each system needs in order to thrive is the key.

As an instant gratification society, many will go for the fast and easy fix when hunger strikes or when feeling the blues.  The quick fix is usually a sugar laden treat.  The normal response after ingesting sugar is a momentary ‘high’ due to rising blood sugar which affects brain chemistry.  What happens next is the crash and burn because blood sugar spikes only temporarily and what goes up must come down revealing an even more exasperated mood than before.  This pattern of unconscious eating causes uncontrollable insulin levels which leads to moods swings as well as weight gain, low energy and cravings.

A thoughtful diet will quite simply enhance ones mood.  It will also lead to an improvement in health.  Long term benefits from choosing the right foods include hormonal balance, ideal blood sugar, boosted metabolism, disappearing sugar cravings, increased energy and loss of weight.  Food has the power to push negative moods into a more positive zone with whole nutrient rich foods. 

Essential fatty acids, (EFAs) are the principle component of nearly all cell membranes of which there are approximate 100 trillion cells in the human body.  The membrane controls the movement of important substances in and out of the cell.  EFAs or omega-3 and 0mega-6 are ‘good’ fats that must be ingested for various functions besides cell membrane health.  When it comes to mood, it is important that these two are in balance with a ratio of 2:1 omega-6 to omega-3.  Sadly the North American diet has a ratio that ranges from 10:1 to 20:1.  This is due to the use of cooking oils high in omega-6 and devoid of omega-3, as well as processed foods.  Omega-3 can be found in cold water fish such as sardines, herring, salmon and mackerel.  Walnuts, flaxseeds, dark green leafy vegetables, soybeans and tofu also contain omega-3.

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that must be found by dietary means because the body cannot make it.  It seems to increase endorphins in the brains for a positive outlook.  It is found in protein such as seaweed, beans, sunflower seeds, poultry, beef, eggs and plain yogurt.  The body then changes phenylalanine into tyrosine (an amino acid the body makes), that is needed to make brain chemicals. These chemicals include dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine and affect mood.  One symptom of phenylalanine deficiency is depression.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter located in the brain and is responsible for feelings of happiness by regulating mood.  Neurotransmitters are chemicals that send signals to and from and within the brain. 

Tryptophan is another essential amino acid that brings about calm and relaxed and sleepy feelings.  Tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin meaning it is able to raise serotonin levels.

Bananas can put a smile on your face because they contain tryptophan which converts into serotonin once digested. 

Everyone knows turkey makes them sleepy and that is because of the tryptophan but that big Thanksgiving dinner will also increase serotonin levels.  Tryptophan can also be found in red meat, soy beans, dairy products, shellfish and nuts and seeds. 

Whole grains are complex carbohydrates that are very important for the individual who suffers from mood disorders as they help increase serotonin.   Dieters who curb their carbohydrate intake, especially those suffering from mood disorders are doing themselves a disservice.  A steady supply of glucose to the brain as well as the rest of the body is provided by such complex carbohydrates as oatmeal (not packaged), brown and wild rice¸ spelt, quinoa, buckwheat, millet and barley.  When in doubt, just look for the word `whole`, particularly when buying bread. 

Lastly, drink pure water and lots of it because in a dehydrated state the body in its infinite wisdom will use tryptophan and tyrosine to transport waste out.

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