Food, Mood and Attitude: What We Eat Affects How We Feel
Jul 31, 2019 07:22PM
By Cindy Wechsler
We all know we need food to fuel our bodies and provide us with nutrients that keep our bodies strong, healthy and functioning at an optimal level. What is less well known is that the food we put into our bodies affects not just our bellies, but our brains as well. Research has shown that our gut and brain interact with each other and are intimately connected. This is known as the gut-brain axis, the biochemical signaling between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. The foods we choose to eat can have a major impact on our physical well-being, as well as on our mental health. With the rise in ADHD, anxiety, autism, autoimmune disease and depression in kids, offering foods that promote brain development, positive mood and attention is critical.
The food we feed our children has the potential to impact their mood and cognitive function. There is a proven biochemical relationship between food and mood that can be attributed to neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that relay signals to the brain. Nutrients in foods are precursors to neurotransmitters, and serotonin and noradrenalin, both considered “happy” neurotransmitters, are made from food. Many neurotransmitters are synthesized in both the gut and the brain, including serotonin, dopamine and gamma amino butyric acid (GABA). Nutrients necessary to support neurotransmitter synthesis include vitamins (especially Bs, C, D and folate), amino acids, minerals (including zinc and iron) and omega-3 fats, all of which can be found in the foods we consume.
Serotonin plays an important role in happiness, restful sleep and a better overall mood. Foods that boost the serotonin levels in the brain include eggs, fish, turkey, mangos, kiwi, bananas, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, sunflower and sesame seeds.
Dopamine plays a part in regulating the brain’s reward centers, which involve pleasure and motivation. Dopamine levels also impact memory, mood, sleep and the ability to learn. Foods that boost dopamine levels include citrus fruits, berries, aged cheese, avocados, eggs and fish.
Gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) reduces anxiety and improves sleep. Food choices that boost GABA levels include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, brown rice, spinach, chia seeds, oranges and almonds.
Recognizing the direct correlation between food and our mood, it is also
essential to examine the benefits of
micronutrients in our diet.
Carbohydrates are our body’s source of energy. There are simple and complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates contain more vitamins, fiber and minerals than simple carbohydrates. They are digested slowly, allowing for a steady state of energy in the body as well as improved brain function. Complex carbohydrates such as legumes, unrefined whole grains, fruits and vegetables tend to have a calming affect on the body and decrease the release of stress hormones. Simple sugars, on the other hand, are digested more quickly and cause spikes of glucose in the blood, leading to increased fluctuations in our mood, energy and concentration. Simple carbohydrates—found in processed foods, cookies, juice and refined grains—are known to cause brain fog, hyperactivity and decreased concentration. Initially they create a more revved-up feeling due to the spikes of sugar in our blood; however, we crash quickly.
Protein is an essential building block for muscles, bones, hormones and the brain. Protein optimizes brain function. Most proteins provide the body with B vitamins, iron, magnesium, zinc and other vital nutrients. Since brain cells communicate via chemical messaging, protein is necessary to produce neurotransmitters. The best sources of protein come from pastured, grass-fed lean meats including poultry and beef, as well as legumes, beans, eggs, cheese, tofu and fish.
Consumption of fats in our diet is important for providing energy, managing mood, helping absorb vitamins and protecting the heart and brain. The brain is composed of cholesterol and fat, and the essential fatty acids we eat help to improve brain function. Healthy essential fats to include in the diet are unsaturated and omega-3s. Healthy fat choices include olive oil, avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, flaxseed, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee and fatty fish. Research has shown that a diet rich in omega-3s may help to reduce symptoms of depression, ADHD, balance mood and sharpen your memory. Other studies report a deficiency in omega-3 fats, zinc and B-vitamins may increase the risk for a mood disorder.
Research has shown that a diet consisting of whole foods can help stabilize mood. Starting the day with a well-balanced breakfast that includes complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats has been shown to have a positive influence on mood and attention, as well as to provide the necessary energy needed to perform. Consider providing your kids with breakfasts that include eggs with veggies and whole grain toast with avocado, a yogurt smoothie with added fruit, vegetables and nut butter, oatmeal with collagen powder, fruits and coconut oil or homemade protein pancakes with a berry puree.
Food truly is the first line of medicine. Research continues to prove that the foods we choose to eat can affect our bodies in a positive or negative way. Offering a balanced diet comprised of whole foods including all varieties of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats and whole grains will keep your kids happy, focused and energized.
Cindy Wechsler is an Integrative Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. She received her Masters of Science in Nursing degree from Yale University and has been treating children for more than 30 years. She specializes in the natural treatment of common childhood conditions. Connect at 203-916-4600 or [email protected]. See ad, back cover.