Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mood and Food - Connect the Dots

Mood and Food

3 Nutritionally Related Mood Triggers
6 Simple Ways Food Helps Regulate Mood



Mood Swings – Nutritionally Related Trigger #1 – Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia – a fancy name for low blood sugar level. Hypoglycemia occurs when:

  • Your body's sugar (glucose) is used up too quickly
  • Glucose is released into the bloodstream too slowly
  • Too much insulin is released into the bloodstream
Although it is most common in people with diabetes, it can happen for healthy people from time to time as well, especially when there is big fluctuation in blood sugar level, or if a person hasn’t eaten for a long period of time.

Skipping meals, not eating enough during meals, genetic tendency for low blood sugar and not compensating by adding extra meals or snacks can all contribute to hypoglycemia.

There are a few ways to alleviate mood issues caused by hypoglycemia:

§       Eat meals that are low in glycemic load: substitute refined grains with whole grains, include a generous amount of vegetables, and a moderate amount of protein and good fats which can slow down the absorption of carbs.

§       To keep blood sugar levels even, experiment with having 5 – 6 small meals or snacks a day, instead of 3 big meals.

§        Avoid as much as possible processed foods, and anything that contains sugar and refined carbohydrates.

If you need extra help with balancing blood sugar level, there are a few things that you can take to supplement your nutritional intake The basics are:
  • Good multivitamin to deal with backlog of deficiencies
  • Vitamin C
  • Essential fatty acid – fish oil supplement, omega 3

Mood Swings – Nutritionally Related Trigger #2 – Gluten Intolerance
Gluten intolerance can trigger mood swings, depression and anxiety.

People who are gluten intolerant can suffer from mood problems, depression and anxiety when they eat foods that contain gluten. In children, this can also be expressed as learning disabilities or behavioral issues such as hyperactivity. Gluten can damage the brain and nerves of gluten-sensitive people. The symptoms from gluten occur through its action on the nervous system and affect brain function.

Gluten intolerance often expresses itself as chronic bowel problems, especially constipation, and cravings for gluten-containing foods such as refined sweets and starches.

The best way to find out if you are gluten intolerant is to eliminate gluten from the diet and challenge after 2 weeks – meaning adding gluten-containing foods back into the diet and observe the reaction.

Here are some gluten-free grains that you can explore: brown rice, buckwheat, amaranth, cornmeal (polenta), millet, quinoa, wild rice and oats/oatmeal (sometimes oats can contain gluten due to content, contact or contamination during the manufacturing process).

Mood Swings – Nutritionally Related Trigger #3 – Neurotransmitter Dysfunction

Our brain depends on neurotransmitters to transmit signals. Neurotransmitters are made of amino acids, which come from protein in our food.  The brain is protein dependent, it needs amino acids, which makes up protein, to manufacture these neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters that regulate mood also regulate our appetite. When we become deficient in our neurotransmitters, we start craving carbs and sugars. The more deficient, the more cravings we have for bad carbs such as refined sugar and processed carbohydrates.

If dietary improvement is not enough to relieve the depression and anxiety, and to counteract the cravings for “bad mood foods” such as refined carbs, sugar, corn syrup, fructose-based substances etc., then supplementation may be necessary. This is called amino acid therapy – the process is to identify negative mood and see what nutrient supplement that are most useful for the symptoms.

The most common reason for depression is serotonin deficiency. The precursor of serotonin is tryptophan, which is the first to be lost in a low calorie diet. It is most common for people who skip meals and are addicted to empty calories.

However, not everyone is suitable for amino acid therapy – particularly if you have pre-existing conditions or are taking other prescription medication. Never try to self-prescribed – always consult a qualified professional before taking amino acid supplements.

 6 Simple Ways Nutrition Helps Regulate Mood

 #1. Eat regularly: Food is fuel; skip a meal and you'll feel tired and cranky.

#2. Don’t skimp on carbs: Carbohydrates have long been demonized, but your body needs carbs to produce serotonin—a feel-good brain chemical that elevates mood, suppresses appetite, and has a calming effect.

Only complex carbs—high in fiber and packed with whole grains—have a positive effect on mood, whereas simple carbs such as candy, cake, cookies, and other sugary choices, bring you down. Need a quick mood boost? Try a healthy carb snack, like a couple cups of air-popped popcorn or half a whole-grain English muffin.

#3. Get enough omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s—found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines—improve both memory and mood. Most experts recommend at least two servings of fatty fish per week; other sources include ground flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, and omega-3-fortified eggs.

#4. Get enough of these nutrients: iron, vitamin B1, B6, folic acid, selenium, and vitamin D.

#5. Watch your fat intake: Greasy choices—particularly those high in saturated fat—are linked to both depression and dementia.

#6. Moderate your caffeine intake: In moderate amounts, caffeine can enhance physical and mental performance, but too much can spur anxiety, nervousness, and mood swings. Stick to one or two cups daily to dodge the negative effects.

Hormonal Balance and Mood (PMS)

For us ladies, staying emotionally balanced is always more challenging during “that time of the month”. The hormone fluctuations that we experience during our periods can be particularly challenging for some.

Vitamin B6, zinc, magnesium and GLA have been shown to alleviate PMS. For some kinds of PMS, hormonal changes disturb blood sugar control and bring on sugar and stimulant cravings, as well as symptoms of tiredness and irritation. In this case, eliminating sugar and stimulants from the diet, as well as eating complex carbohydrates and fruits in small quantities and often, can often help relieve the symptoms.

If these dietary changes cannot help completely resolve the issue, you may then want to see if your PMS is due to estrogen-dominance or relative lack of progesterone. This condition may be brought on by prolonged use of birth control pills, and will need testing and correcting by a qualified health professional.

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