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The Food-Mood Connection

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It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that your mood is affected by what, when, and how you eat. There’s even a trendy, new term to describe the crankiness we feel when we haven’t eaten all day – the word is hangry, and it perfectly sums up the connection between food and mood.

What many of us might not be aware of, though, is the extent to which our emotional well-being is impacted by our dietary habits, often on a long-term basis. It’s not just about skipping meals. It’s about the quality of the food we eat and the nourishment – both nutritional and emotional – we receive from it. Here are six  tips to help you use food to boost your mojo and your mood:

#1 – No more calorie counting.

Yes, overeating causes sluggishness, which rarely leaves us feeling particularly jolly. But low-calorie eating deprives us of the nutrients our bodies need. When you’re running at a nutritional deficit, there’s going to be additional stress on most of your body’s systems, which makes it difficult to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. In addition, it causes your blood sugar to drop, and your energy right along with it.

#2 – Don’t be afraid of fat.

It’s a common misperception that fat is what makes us fat. In reality, healthy, natural fats are a crucial part of a well-balanced diet. They have several important benefits, like helping the body to absorb certain vitamins, for example. Drastically cutting down on your fat intake impairs a number of the body’s systems. Also, many “low-fat” and “reduced-fat” foods use artificial ingredients to try to simulate the texture and flavor that natural fat provides, and those additives can have all kinds of negative health effects. So it’s no wonder that we may not always feel chipper if we’re ditching an important macronutrient and replacing it with potentially harmful synthetic ingredients.

#3 – Take it easy on the sugar.

If you’ve ever been around a toddler who has just downed a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, you know that sugar gives you energy – and causes you to crash an hour or two later. While much is made of the “sugar buzz,” it relates not just to our energy level, but to our mood, as well. While you might feel like you’re in good spirits when you’re at the peak of a sugar high, the peaks and valleys that a high-sugar diet brings means that, as soon as your energy starts to dip, your mood follow. What you need is a diet that provides sustained energy – that will help to keep your mood more stable, as well.

#4 – Use Protein Wisely

This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard someone singing protein’s praises – it’s one of the building blocks of bones, muscles, and cartilage, it can contribute to healthy hair and nails, and more. But what’s not talked about as much is its role in boosting our mood. Unlike sugar and other carbs, which are quick sources of fuel, protein gives us sustained energy. By avoiding the ups and downs of energy jolts and plunges, we’re less likely to experience mood swings. Protein, in short, keeps us grounded.

#5 – Eat good food!

So, we’ve talked about fat, sugar, and protein. The bottom line is – it’s important to eat foods that will actually nourish us. That means high-quality, whole foods. This boosts our mood in a number of ways. First, it gives us sustained energy. It also provides the body with the nutrients it needs to function smoothly – and we all know that when we feel better physically, we feel better psychologically. And, while low-calorie and low-fat diets often negatively impact our mood via deprivation, the other end of the spectrum is overeating, which can bring us down by making us feel sluggish. Because nutrient-dense foods are more filling than highly processed products, which are largely just empty calories, we’ll feel full sooner and be less likely to overeat.

#6 – Listen to your body.

If you find yourself often complaining or feeling unhappy, pay attention to what your body is telling you. Are you feeling burned out? If so, set aside some time to relax and unwind. Be aware of how you feel when you eat certain foods. If a particular type of food makes you feel sub-par, cut it out of your diet for a few days and see if your mood improves.

Be patient as you incorporate these tips into your lifestyle. Small changes lead to big shift, so start with one or two at a time and pay attention and to how your body reacts to each. Then pick and choose the ones that work for you!

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