Your Diet Affects Your Mood
Like most people, you likely understand the food you eat will affect your physical health, but the relationship between the diet and mind is one that is often overlooked. While our thoughts, personality and mood cannot be physically touched, our brain IS a part of our body, and our mental health is just as susceptible to our diet as our physical health is!
"Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain," says Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery and physiological science at UCLA.
When our diet is insufficient in the nutrients required to produce neurotransmitters, depression and psychological problems can result.
Fernando has spent years studying the way diet, exercise, and sleep affect the brain: "Diet, exercise and sleep have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function. This raises the exciting possibility that changes in diet are a viable strategy for enhancing cognitive abilities, protecting the brain from damage and counteracting the effects of aging."
While the link between our mind and diet is still an emerging science, researchers have been able to determine the effect certain foods have on our mood by observing the fluctuating levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Among these are three which have a particularly pronounced effect on the way a person feels - dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Optimal mood and mental health depends on a balance in their levels - which can rise and fall depending on the foods we eat.
When our diet is insufficient in the nutrients required to produce neurotransmitters, depression and psychological problems can result. With excessive caloric intake, slowed blood flow will reduce nutrient ability to reach the brain. It seems improving mood and overall health is simply about proper balance - a balanced caloric intake - enough to support your energetic needs, but not so much it slows you down- and a balance of nutrition - carbohydrates, proteins and nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.
Beyond ensuring a healthful balance of proteins and carbohydrates in your diet, when it comes to mood especially, it's important to consider your blood sugar levels. The key here, once again, is stability and balance. Fluctuating blood sugar levels can wreak havoc on your emotional state making you irritable, forgetful and depressed. Fortunately, maintaining stable blood sugar levels is fairly simple. Skipping meals or consuming an insufficient amount of calories will cause blood sugar levels to drop, while eating sugary foods and simple carbohydrates like white bread products will cause levels to rise.
To be your best, happiest, healthiest self - the key word is balance!
- Balanced Caloric Intake - Too many calories will leave you feeling sluggish and irritable, too few will leave you unable to concentrate and feeling anxious and fatigued. An average adult should consume between 1,500 and 2,000 calories a day, depending on activity level.
- Balanced Nutrient Intake - A majority of colorful, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, balanced with healthful proteins and carbohydrates.
- Balanced Blood Sugar Levels - Ensure you are taking in a sufficient amount of calories consistently throughout your day. Don't forget breakfast! Circadian rhythms dictate that "morning people" may save protein rich meals for later in the day, but "night owls" should make sure they start with protein to promote alertness. Do this and avoid foods which raise blood sugar levels - sugary foods and simple carbs.
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