Food & Mood The Link Between Food, Stress & Mood? Don’t Forget Exercise You’ve heard the saying “you are what you eat.” Medical research has long shown that Exercise triggers the release of your food choices affect both your short-term and long-term health. C. Everett Koop, the endorphins from the brain that former U.S. Surgeon General, once stated “your choice of diet influences your long-term work immediately to send health prospects more than any other action you might take.” pleasure signals through the body. Often referred to as the We know malnutrition can reduce mental and physical performance. But can diet also “runners high,” exercise can be affect the mood, alertness or energy level of healthy adults? Is there a real connection a powerful mood elevator. Try between food and mood or how we handle stress? Do we feel what we eat? taking a brisk walk next time you need to cheer up. Physical We often naturally, or out of habit, turn to food – to cheer us up, calm us down, or give us activity has also been linked energy. Some research suggests that eating the right foods or combination of foods may with increased mental capacity enhance alertness, improve mood, affect how we handle stress and positively affect and improved memory, memory. alertness and concentration. The theory explaining how food may affect mood, alertness or memory revolves Are You An Owl or around substances called neurotransmitters, which are chemicals produced by the A Rooster? brain that help nerve cells pass messages to one another. They affect many body When looking to improve functions, including temperature, mood and appetite. There are about 30 to 40 known your performance or mood neurotransmitters but only a few may be influenced by diet. Specific based on the foods you eat, nutrients found in food are the building blocks of these neurotransmitters. consider whether you are a morning or night person. A morning person is not going Energy, Alertness, & Concentration to need protein at breakfast to Two well-known neurotransmitters – norepinephrine and dopamine – stimulate the concentrate but might need a nervous system, increasing our energy level and helping us concentrate. Eating foods little protein in the afternoon with protein (meat, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy products, eggs, or dried beans, peas and to perk up. On the other lentils) provides our bodies with the building blocks for these neurotransmitters. At high hand, a little protein at the levels, dopamine and norepinephrine can make you nervous and anxious. Of more night person’s breakfast would significance, protein inhibits the production of another neurotransmitter, serotonin, which be helpful. has a claming, relaxing effect on the body. If you cannot stay awake in the afternoon, consider the composition of your lunch. Is it too low in protein? Adding a protein-rich food might give you the energy, alertness and concentration that you need. Conversely, don’t eat a large steak before bedtime, because you may not be able to relax enough to sleep. Good Foods for Good Moods Calmness and Relaxation Focus on nutrient-rich foods. Your body requires over 50 different nutrients to Eating foods with carbohydrates function. When you limit your food selections, you run the risk of missing out on (bread, cereal, rice, pasta, potato some important nutrients. Nutrition is very complex, and no one food has such a or fruit) helps tryptophan, the significant impact on health, mood, energy or alertness that you must eat it building block for serotonin, reach excessively or eliminate it completely. the brain. Serotonin leads to feelings of relaxation or calmness and often enhances one’s sense Cut back on your fat intake. A high fat diet can be a real brain and energy drainer. of well-being. Yet, at high levels, it Fat is the hardest nutrient to digest — it takes the most time to digest. Look for can cause fatigue and sleepiness. foods that contain 0 to 3 grams of fat per serving. Milk contains tryptophan, which is why “a glass of warm milk before Plan meals and snacks — don’t rely on chance. Use the MyPyramid as a bedtime” has been recommended guideline for planning balanced meals to keep your body well nourished and for centuries to help us sleep. nurtured. Access the pyramid at www.mypyramid.gov. Turkey is also very high in tryptophan, explaining the need to Eat moderate portion sizes and avoid large meals. Do you ever feel really tired nap after Thanksgiving dinner! In the treatment of depression, after eating a large meal? During periods of digestion, your blood supply is directed serotonin reuptake inhibitors to the digestive tract and away from the brain. This may lead to fatigue and lethargy. prevent the reabsorption of serotonin by the cells that release Eat regular meals. According to a study at the Mayo Clinic, people who skip it. This helps it stay in circulation breakfast may have metabolic rates 5 percent below normal. Metabolism directly and lift the mood of those who are clinically depressed. relates to energy level. The lower your metabolism, the lower your energy level. Skipping meals also contributes to an inability to concentrate since your brain needs A high carbohydrate meal or food to function. In addition, varying levels of blood sugar can contribute to an snack may help you relax at the inability to handle stress due to the physiological effects accompanied by up and end of the day. To experience the down blood sugars. maximum effect of carbohydrates on your mood, eat them alone. When you eat carbohydrates with Foods are not good or bad. All food choices are okay – as long as you don’t go protein-rich foods, the amino acids overboard on any one food, especially foods or beverages that are high in fat, sugar compete with each other to get to and calories. A balanced diet consists of a variety of nutrient-packed foods balanced the brain. When you eat only with a moderate amount of your favorite snack foods, desserts or fatty foods. Too carbohydrates, tryptophan doesn’t have to compete and is shuttled much of any food is not healthy. more easily across the brain where it eventually is converted Remember balance, variety and moderation. Balance, variety and moderation are into serotonin. Be mindful not to still the keys to good nutrition and health. The best strategy for maintaining a good overdo carbohydrates during times mood, high energy level and optimal concentration is to consistently eat a wide when you need to concentrate or be more alert. If you have an variety of nutritious foods. important meeting or afternoon project, a high carbohydrate snack such as candy or pretzels is probably not a good idea!