Does what we eat affect the way our brain operates? There aren’t just sugar highs and sugar lows – in fact, a majority of what goes on in your gut will determine your emotional stability, stress and anxiety levels, immunity and sleep quality.
If you’ve ever eaten super clean for a couple weeks, you might have noticed that you felt happier and more energized. This is what I experienced when I decided to shift my entire lifestyle from the Standard American Diet to a whole food, plant-based raw diet. My personality shifted from a repressed (and probably depressed), moody, chronic-napper, to something I didn’t even know was possible. I became happier, my moods were much more balanced, I felt more grounded, and naps only became an occurrence when I had too much on my plate and burnt myself out from over-working the day before.
To put it simply, the food you eat directly affects your mood and energy levels, and if you feed your body with easily digestible foods with no synthetic ingredients (aka. fruit and vegetables), then your mood and energy levels will flow easily as well.
Foods That Affect Your Mood
Anything that isn’t natural is going to synthetically alter the chemical reactions in your brain and body, causing you to feel less than optimal.
Foods that take the longest to digest, are also the foods that drive energy away from our brain, and into our gut. When our body is slowed down because of all of the power it takes to digest, then we start to get moody, groggy, and fatigued.
Six mood-busting foods you should avoid are wheat, dairy, meat, processed foods, refined sugar, and alcohol. Why these foods?
• Wheat contains the protein gluten, which negatively impacts mood and brain health. Wheat inhibits the production of serotonin in the brain and gut, which can lead to depression.
• Dairy is a problematic food. It can make us feel stressed, anxious and cranky after consumption. The protein casein in all dairy products react with receptors in the gut and brain, which creates symptoms that mimic bipolar disorder, and create undue stress on the body.
• Meat, with all of the synthetic hormones and other chemicals injected after processing, has been linked to altered mood states. Consuming a high-meat diet also means you are over-consuming arachidonic acid (omega-6), which promotes changes in the brain that negatively disturb our mood.
• Processed foods are loaded with mood-busting ingredients. They are loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, GMOs, trans fats, artificial colours, MSG, artificial sweeteners and other ingredients that trigger our mood and set it in the wrong direction.
• Refined sugar (separate from natural sugar found in fruit) contribute to insulin and leptin resistance, which can alter our mental health. Sugar also suppresses BDNF activity, which under normal conditions, keeps our brain neurons strong and healthy. Low BDNF levels have been linked with depression and schizophrenia.
• GMO foods are also largely linked with mood disturbances. They alter your gut flora and destroy beneficial microbes that are essential in mental (and physical) health.
Link Between Emotions and Eating
There are many ways that food affects how you feel, but it can also manifest as depression and addiction to name a few. Here are 6 ways that food can affect your mood:
Eating a diet that lacks in vitamins, minerals, and crucial phytonutrients (basically the Standard American Diet), is a risk factor for depression. Diets high in sugar, and processed foods are the perfect recipe for creating mood disorders like depression. Eat a whole foods, plant-based diet, get rid of the wheat and dairy, and watch your mood sky-rocket!
2. Addictive Eating
Eating lots of refined sugary carbs (or anything packaged for that matter – it all has hidden sugar) can lead to a form of addictive eating. Sweets (and fats) trigger pleasure centres in the brain similar to when one takes addictive drugs like heroin. You keep going back for more. Instead, opt for natural sugars in fruit – these won’t make you continually crave more and more.
When your body is stressed (which is basically all the time if you live in the city, and watch the news and eat stress-causing foods like meat and dairy), it causes your body to seek sugar as an quick energy source. In times of stress, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode and the brain metabolizes sugar (or glucose) incredibly quickly, causing you to crave more sweets. Eating sugar essentially quiets the stress signal in the brain, which is why so many people seek the comfort of sugary sweets in times of stress.
Some studies have found a link between sugar metabolism and schizophrenia. It is also common for someone with schizophrenia to also suffer from diabetes. Although the link isn’t strong, it is something to consider.
5. Mental Health
Lower-quality diets have forever been linked with poor mental health. If you aren’t providing your brain with proper nutrition (vitamins, essential fatty acids, minerals, amino acids and the like), then it simply can’t function. This is why the diets of people with mental health problems are often of lower-quality than higher. However, if you have mental health issues, then it may make it harder for you to eat healthier. Education is key.
6. Mindful Eating
Lastly, practicing mindful eating will significantly affect your food-mood relationship. Recognizing that eating foods high in sugar to escape bad mood is an emotional response, will help you end this cycle. Eating for escape is not the answer. Eating mindfully will allow you to practice slow eating, without distraction and to savour the experience of healthy food.
Foods That Enhance Your Mood
There are also a handful of foods that help enhance your mood like chocolate (specifically, cacao), green juices, bananas, berries, and pretty much every other fruit you can imagine. Chocolate contains a chemical called anandamide, a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that helps relieve anxiety and blocks feelings of pain.
Green juices help balance blood sugar levels to enhance mood and energy levels, while fruit is rich in vitamins, minerals, and glucose necessary for proper brain (and body) function.
What foods do you eat that make you feel good (or bad)? Let us know in the comments below!