Have you ever indulged in ice cream or cake when you are feeling down or upset? How about being stuck in traffic on your way to work without breakfast and suddenly felt “hangry” (Hungry+Angry)? Did you know that your energy level, your ability to think clearly and to handle stress is all affected by what you had at your last meal? Our mood can affect our food choices. But at the same time, our food choices can also affect our mood. Put simply: Food and mood have an effect on one another. Like what I shared with you on my previous blog, the mind and the body is a single entity, what you put in your stomach affects your mood and vice versa. It all begins with what kind of foods and drinks we intake that determine the nutrients in our system and how quality our physical, mental, as well as emotional well-being functions.
Having known that, have you ever considered which of your current eating habits and food choices are worth keeping that can make you feel happier and healthier? And how about the ones you should ditch? Here are some positive suggestions you can make to improve your eating to manage your mood and can also support your overall health.
- Eat regularly
Eating regular meals and snacks at the same times every day and choosing foods that release energy slowly will help keep your blood sugar levels steady. If your blood sugar drops you might feel tired, irritable and depressed. But having a regular eating schedule helps ensure that your body has a continuous source of fuel, and this may assist in keeping your mood stable.
Balance your mealtimes and try eating smaller portions spaced out more regularly throughout the day. Avoid skipping meals as it actually makes your body less able to take in food, and you are more liable to overeat at the next meal—aside from you getting “hangry” when you try to prolong the growling of your stomach. Eat foods like pasta, rice, oats, wholegrain bread and cereals, nuts and seeds– those that slowly release energy. On the other hand, avoid foods that make your blood sugar rise and fall rapidly, such as sweets, biscuits, sugary drinks, and alcohol.
- Keep yourself hydrated
Drinking enough fluids daily is important for health and well-being. Dehydration can affect brain structure and function because it is also involved in the production of hormones and neurotransmitters. If you don’t drink enough fluid, you may find it difficult to concentrate or think clearly. It can also lead to digestive problems such as constipation and an overly acidic stomach.
It is recommended to drink at least 8 glasses of fluids daily. Water is the cheapest and healthiest option. Drinking tea, coffee, juices, and smoothies all count towards your intake but be aware that these may also contain caffeine or sugar.
- Get your “Five a day”
What is five a day? It is simply the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain a lot of the minerals, vitamins, and fiber we need to keep us physically and mentally healthy.
What do five servings of fruits and vegetables look like? In general, a serving of whole fruit equals the entire fruit, while a serving of cut-up fruit is one cup, or about the size of a small fist. A serving of vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned) is a cup, and a serving of raw green leafy vegetables is two cups. Measure, measure! Nah! Experts say don’t stress about keeping track of numbers. Instead, simply focus on adding more fruits or vegetables into every meal and snack. Devote half of your plate to fruits and vegetables.
To start, stick with your favorites, as you are more likely to eat them on a regular basis. If you want to keep it simple, focus on the “big three”: leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and berries. Fresh, frozen, tinned, dried and juiced (one glass) fruits and vegetables all count towards your 5 a day.
- Look after your gut
Your Gut is your second brain. Good gut health is not just for your physical health, but for your mental health as well. It’s not only what food you put in your stomach, but it is also important how you break down that food and absorb the nutrients for you to utilize all the vitamins and minerals from your food. Sometimes your gut can reflect how you are feeling emotionally. If you’re stressed or anxious or eating on the run, this can make your gut slow down or speed up, hence, you can’t digest well. If you’re feeling stressed and you think it is affecting your gut, try some relaxation techniques or breathing exercises.
For healthy digestion, you need to chew your food slowly, have plenty of fiber, fluid and exercise regularly. Adding fiber-rich foods and fermented foods like yogurt can promote the growth of good gut bacteria that have a positive impact on mental health. Avoiding processed foods, high-fat foods, and foods high in refined sugars is extremely important to maintaining a healthy microbiome, as these foods destroy good bacteria and promote the growth of damaging bacteria.
Healthy gut foods include fruits, vegetables and whole grains, beans, pulses, live yogurt, and other probiotics.
- Get enough protein
Protein contains amino acids, which make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings. These chemicals are responsible for whether you are calm or agitated, alert, tired, happy or depressed. Protein also helps keep you feeling fuller and alert for longer. Eating protein with every meal helps the food last longer in your stomach and bloodstream, prevents blood sugar crashes and also keeps you up and alert for several hours after eating.
Smart protein food choices are lean meat, seafood, eggs, cheese, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), soy products, nuts, and seeds.
- Manage caffeine
Caffeine acts as a central nervous system stimulant- an important part of which is the brain. People usually take it to get a quick burst of energy, however, it can also make you feel anxious and depressed. Moreover, if it keeps you awake at night, definitely it can affect your mood the next day. It will also give you withdrawal symptoms if you stop suddenly. Caffeine affects everyone differently, so if it negatively impacts you, avoid drinking it or try opting for caffeine-free or low-caffeine beverages.
Manage your caffeine intake as overconsumption is being linked to an increased risk of depression. Drinking many caffeinated beverages can also cause adverse effects going beyond your mood including insomnia, an upset stomach, and muscle tremors.
You can find caffeine in tea, coffee, chocolate, cola, and other manufactured energy drinks.
- Eat the right fats
Your brain is composed of about 70 percent fat. It needs essential fatty acids from your diet to keep it working well. Omega-3s and other healthy fats help improve brain chemical activity by assisting brain cells in communicating with each other and reducing inflammation that can damage brain cells. This anti-inflammatory component of healthy fats helps prevent depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. So rather than avoiding all fats, it’s important to eat the good ones.
Healthy fats are like the ones found in oily fish, poultry, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), olive and sunflower oils, seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin), avocados, milk, yogurt, cheese, and eggs. These essential fats can also be found in Oleia softgel dietary food supplement–this is an excellent choice especially to those who are suffering from this dietary shortfall.
Small steps in changing your dietary habits can make a big difference in the long run. Next time you’re feeding your body, don’t forget that you’re also feeding your brain. Embrace healthy eating and enjoy happy living!
References: Harvard Health Publishing, Healthline, Mind and Mental Health Charity
About The Author
Andrea is a full time home maker. When she is not busy taking care of her husband and kids, she goes out giving financial management talks. She is a proud breastfeeding mom for four years running and an avid user.