“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not.” - Mark Twain
Are you angry? Feeling anxious, edgy, frustrated? Maybe you are suffering from depression or dire melancholy. Forget psychoanalysis, medication, counseling or prozac. Research is suggesting that what you eat may affect your mood. The evidence that is beginning to accumulate in support of this “food as medicine” notion is varied and is being published widely. One of its early proponents is Dr Khursheed Jeejeebhoy (formerly of the University of Toronto see: http://jeejeebhoy.ca/lifeliner/jeej/
) who maintained that consumption of some foods is associated with a feeling of happiness and an optimistic mood.
Studies at the University of Wales support this hypothesis and show when students were given different breakfast combinations, their emotional responses varied. A breakfast low in kilojoules, carbohydrates and fat, but high in fibre gives a boost to happy feelings and optimism, but also improves memory. Contrariwise, other studies have shown that typical junk foods loaded with simple carbohydrates, low in fibre, high in fat and calories combined with stress lead to irritability, anger, panic attacks, impatience, fuzzy thinking and addictive behaviours. Jack Challen, a nutrition expert, has labelled this dietary consequence as the “pissy mood syndrome”.
The scientific basis for these observations may have a lot to do with the chemistry of the brain. Serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine are all chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells. Food can influence levels of these compounds in the body. Carbohydrates increase the levels of serotonin, causing a feeling of well-being but also drowsiness. Dopamine and noradrenaline increases cause feelings of alertness, heighten reaction times and increase energy. Protein-rich foods raise levels of these compounds in the brain: Meat, chicken, fish, soy, nuts, eggs and dairy products.
It should be kept in mind, however, that overeating will cause drowsiness as the more food in the stomach, the more blood is drained away from the brain to the intestines for the digestion process. Hence the feeling of sleepiness after a very heavy meal. A light meal of relatively few calories that is protein rich is the best for an alert mind.
Depression is relieved b foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids: Salmon, prawns, lobster, walnuts. Drinking lots of water and keeping hydrated also helps one’s mood. In this respect, cutting down coffee and alcohol (which are both diuretics and hence can cause dehydration) intake may help.
If you still feel aggressive and not quite relaxed, chomp on some chocolate. This has been used from ancient times by Aztecs as a healthful food and modern science has confirmed that it contains over 300 compounds that influence mood. Just make sure it’s good quality dark chocolate, as high sugar intake is definitely bad for one’s mood. Immediately after one eats sugar, there is a short-lived “Sugar high” followed soon after by a “sugar low” where despondency and dejection set in.
A healthy diet will certainly improve your mood, but this is helped by regular exercise. The latter causes an increase in body chemicals called endorphins. These substances produced within the body, have a positive effect on the brain, rather similar to morphine.
So in summary, for good mood:
• Low fat, low carbohydrate, low kilojoule, high protein, high fibre diet
• Regular exercise
• Drink lots of water
• Keep coffee and alcohol consumption down
• Eat shellfish
• Dark chocolate
• Low sugar
Enjoy a healthy meal, enjoy a healthy life.