Managing our mood and feeling good about who we are makes life worth living. These days, we are inundated with all kinds of strategies to tweak our brain chemistry, and far too many people find themselves on prescription drugs that can have numerous unwanted side effects. It’s time for a more empowered approach to managing our mood. And one of the best and easiest places to start is with food.
The food-mood connection is well documented in numerous studies from the fields of Mind Body Nutrition and Dynamic Eating Psychology. Let’s take a look at 4 surprising ways that food can impact your mood, along with the simple strategies to help you get to a better and happier place.
1. Low Blood Sugar
Lack of food causes low blood sugar. Our brain is made largely of fat and runs on glucose, or blood sugar, for fuel. When we underfeed our body, we also underfeed our brain. If we don’t have a steady stream of blood sugar, we can become tired, irritable, and fatigued. Anyone who gets low blood sugar, or is in a relationship with someone who gets low blood sugar, knows how challenging this can be.
Low blood sugar is the culprit when people are “hangry,” or hungry-angry all at once.
This is simply the brain screaming at us to do something immediately because blood sugar levels are becoming too low.
Over-consumption of processed sugar can lead to unstable blood sugar levels, which also affects our mood. Our brain is wired for pleasure through our dopamine channels. However, our body is built to break down complex nutrients into simpler sugars and other nutrients. Our body is not designed to receive mass quantities of pre-processed sugar. Brain scans have confirmed that processed sugar acts in the brain similarly to the way drugs like cocaine act. We get a high from the immediate consumption. Our pleasure centers light up. But it’s not a sustainable pleasure. After a little more time, we come down from the high and feel irritable until we get our next sugar fix.
So the bottom line is this: decrease your consumption of sugar and poor quality carbohydrates, and watch your mood improve.
2. Artificial Sweeteners
No matter what marketing and propaganda you’ve heard, artificial sweeteners are generally neurotoxic. They affect the myelin sheaths that protect brain and nerve functions, and may be linked to conditions such as Parkinson’s and epilepsy. When the myelin sheaths are broken down, our brain and body cells cannot communicate as effectively. We feel foggy. Our thoughts may be more scattered and we may find it more difficult to focus our attention. Our mood gets more irritable as chemicals play with our neurotransmitter receptor sites, increasing anxiety, depression and more.
Artificial sweeteners are also destructive for metabolism. They trick your body into thinking it’s getting naturally occurring sugars, so the body produces the appropriate amount of insulin for that sugar, but there’s none to digest. Then, because there’s extra insulin, the body begins to perceive low blood sugar, and suddenly you’re hungry again. This encourages us to eat more than we normally would – the opposite of the effect that most people are looking for when they choose foods that contain artificial sweeteners. The bottom line is this: let go of these products. They are not meant for human consumption.
3. Gluten Sensitivity
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is far more common than most people realize. People with gluten sensitivity are impacted by wheat products such as bread, pasta, cereals, cookies, cakes, muffins – anything made with wheat. Those who are gluten sensitive have symptoms that can include depression, irritability, fatigue, digestive problems, skin issues such as eczema and rashes, brain fog, and joint and gut inflammation. Those who are gluten sensitive can also be more susceptible to stress and overwhelm.
Gluten consumption can wear down the villi, or finger-like projections in the intestines, negatively affecting digestion. The gluten protein can also affect gut permeability, so that proteins that are too big for the blood stream leak through and then are recognized by the immune system as foreign invaders, which causes an autoimmune response that can be stressful for the body.
The easiest way to determine if you’re gluten sensitive is to eliminate gluten from your diet for several weeks and see how you feel. If you notice an obvious change in mood, energy, joint pain, digestion, or other areas, then you’ll know it’s best to limit this foodstuff in your diet to the best of your ability.
4. Food allergies
Food allergies can leave our brains feeling foggy, our skin itchy, and our stomachs in pain. We can have headaches, dizziness, joint pain, bloating and more. The constant burden on the body to do battle with food allergens taxes our neurochemical resources and can certainly affect our mood via anxiety, irritability, and depression.
When someone has a food allergy, there are two types of immune responses. One is the antibody circulating in the blood, called immunoglobulin E (IgE). This is what doctors are looking for in allergy testing. The other is a histamine response in which the mast cells in the nose, throat, lungs, skin and gut inflame to protect sensitive mucosal linings where infections can enter our vital organs.
The most common food allergies, by the way, are to wheat, corn, soy, dairy, certain fruits, eggs, and peanuts.
As always, the easiest way to determine if you have food allergies is to go on an elimination diet and see how you feel. This is truly the gold standard of food allergy testing.
Hopefully, you’ve just seen how you can empower yourself to improve your mood through some simple dietary experiments that can make a huge difference and have indeed done so for millions of people. It’s all about being willing to be a nutritional explorer and see what works best for YOUR body…
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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