One year ago, September 2018, a mother said, “I know it’s hard, Maddie”, slid a Hershey’s chocolate under her daughter’s bedroom door, and finished with “… but I promise it’s going to get better.” Cue Maddie gently opening her door, holding her mother’s gaze, smiling, and joining her mother for presumably more chocolate.
The Hershey Company is clever. They recognize the intensity of the mood-food connection. Romantic comedies recognize it, too. The leading lady reaches for a spoon and tub of ice cream when her heart aches greatest, whereas her happy and successful archnemesis dines on sea bass and lobster while soothing music cocoons the moment and candles cast a glow that softens her sculpted cheekbones.
The message is clear: Mood and food are connected, for better or worse. And typically, the unhealthy food accompanies the worse.
So what does this mean? Is it possible you really are what you eat? Do specialists believe you can eat your way toward happiness and by default, unhappiness?
The brain requires constant fuel. Unlike a car, it never stops. Thoughts, movement, heartbeat, breath, senses. These things, and more, require the brain’s constant attention. But like a car, you can fuel your brain with premium or unleaded fuels… and your choice matters.
Premium fuel helps the brain function best. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are premium fuel. Unleaded fuel, however, think processed and refined foods, can damage your brain. According to Dr. Eva Selhub (MD), “multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function- and even worsening symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.” Dr. Michael Camilleri (MD) points out that 95% of our serotonin- the neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain- is produced in your gastrointestinal tract. Your digestive tract isn’t just a garbage disposal. It guides your emotions too!
Many studies indicate probiotics improve peoples’ mental outlook, perception of stress, and anxiety levels. The American Journal of Psychiatry found those with Mediterranean and traditional Japanese diets (diets high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats but low in unhealthy fats and void of processed and refined foods and sugars) have a 25-35% lower risk of depression than those who practice the Western diet (a diet high in red meat, processed food, and sugary snacks and drinks but low in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains).
Most wouldn’t give soda to a child at night because the crazed high, followed by the tantrum-fueled low is a rollercoaster no adult wants to ride. But at some point, we stop worrying about the consequences of what we put in our bodies. If we placed the same nutritional focus on ourselves as we do our children (daily vitamin, daily vegetables and fruits, limited sugary drinks and snacks, consistent full night’s rest), our bodies would scream with gratitude.
One look at Snickers hilarious ‘hangry’ (we even make up words for the mood-food connection, hungry + angry= hangry) commercials and we see what happens when we skip meals. One look at Garfield sliding off Jon’s couch, as trays of empty lasagna pans ting to the floor and his eyes glaze over, and we see our mood and our energy level when we indulge. We know what habits and foods fuel our mood poorly, but do we know what fuels it well?
Health professionals agree that protein, vitamins, and fiber are key to premium fueling. Protein (eggs, seafood, chicken, low-fat yogurt) slows the absorption of carbohydrates in our blood and increases the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, which researchers believe may increase mood and energy. Vitamin D (low-fat milk, eggs yolks) has been found to relieve mood disorders, such as seasonal affective disorder. And researches say folate (broccoli, lentils, oatmeal, oranges, dark leafy greens) may ease depression, while fiber slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and increases serotonin levels.
So believe it when Snickers preaches “You’re not you when you’re hungry” because they’re right… your food, or lack of it, changes your mood. But believe the health specialists and reach for food that’ll fuel your brain and body for more than an intoxicating minute. Choose the right fuel, and you’ll eat your way toward a happier life- not just a happier moment.
Author: Evelyn Lindell
Certified Health & Wellness Coach