You probably already know that your diet affects your chances of disease.
If we consume too much saturated fat, we are at risk for heart disease.
If we consume too little calcium our chances of developing osteoporosis are higher.
Often the consequences of a poor diet take years to show up. But did you know that what you ate for breakfast today is affecting your mood right this minute?
And did you know your energy level, your ability to think clearly and to handle stress are affected by what you had at your last meal?
The nutrients in the food we eat determine the composition of chemicals in our brain.
These brain chemicals are responsible for whether we are calm or agitated, alert or tired, happy or depressed.
Serotonin is often called the “feel good” brain chemical. It relieves depression, induces sleepiness, promotes calmness and pain tolerance.
Serotonin levels are increased when we consume carbohydrates. This may explain why we crave carbohydrates when we are sad, angry or upset.
Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression, suicide, alcoholism and aggressive behavior.
Studies on prisoners incarcerated for impulsive and violent crimes reveal that many have abnormally low serotonin levels in their brains.
Dopamine and norepinephrine are the brain chemicals responsible for alertness, mental function, ability to cope with stress, and for improving mood.
These chemicals are regulated by protein in the diet. So, when you need to stay alert and on task, make sure you have a good source of protein with your meal.
If you tend to get sleepy in the middle of the afternoon, you’ll stay more alert if you have a moderate serving of protein with your lunch. If you’re a “night owl,” and have a hard time getting going in the morning, be sure to have a high protein breakfast.
Protein-rich foods include meats, milk, yogurt (especially Greek yogurt), eggs and legumes.
Sugar intake has a profound effect on our mood and energy levels. If you eat a high-sugar snack or meal, your blood sugar will quickly rise within 10-15 minutes. This causes your pancreas to secrete insulin, and as a result your blood sugar crashes down within 25-30 minutes.
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This combination of low blood sugar and high insulin levels causes us to feel hungry and tired, and increases storage of body fat.
A better choice would be to consume complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, legumes, potatoes and corn. The carbohydrate in these foods is digested slower, causing blood sugar to rise gradually. This results in more stable blood sugar and serotonin levels.
We’re hearing a lot about omega-3 fats these days. These are the types of fat found predominantly in fish and seafood. Flaxseed, canola oil, and walnuts are also sources of omega-3s.
Omega-3’s been found to cause serotonin levels in the brain to rise, which improves mood.
Consuming fish just two to three times each week will provide enough omega-3 to give your body what it needs.
In addition, B-vitamins and magnesium are important nutrients in regulating brain chemicals. These nutrients are abundant in animal products, green leafy vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
A balanced dietary pattern that includes a high quality protein, whole grain, and fruit or vegetable with every meal, will help assure the right balance of nutrients to keep your blood sugar and brain chemicals in balance. In addition, be sure to include fish, legumes and green leafy vegetables two to three times each week.