Editor’s Note: Happy Friday! Naturopath Amy Wells is on site with a look at foods that boost brain function and mood, along with foods that hinder health and wellness. Here she is:
The other day, I had a food meltdown. It wasn’t on purpose, it just sort of happened as a result of circumstance. It started with a late breakfast, too few calories and too much sugar. Completely off track for the rest of the day, my menu would have been an insult to the raw food community. By evening, I barely had enough energy to fuel a worm, and my mood was about as rotten as my guts felt.
It happens to the best of us every now and then. You have a busy day, you’re away from home and you grab quick nutrient-empty snacks that are high in refined sugars and low in protein and fibre. I use these days as “eating and feeling” days; it’s an in-your-face reminder of the role food plays on our mood and energy. Eating “dead” foods doesn’t make you feel very alive at the end of the day.
The effect of food on our energy and mood is not breaking news, but I thought I’d do a little reminder for you all as we enter into summer vacations. Sugary foods, like ice cream, popsicles and lemonades can be refreshing on hot days, but thankfully, it’s also the season for nature’s candy like berries, peaches and peas that can cool down our kiddos when prepared in fun frozen ways.
We all occasionally experience low or fluctuating moods. Impatience, grumpiness, irritability and sadness are normal occurring emotions. What is abnormal is the constant presence of these emotions, without the feelings of happiness and joy. It is then that we must address the possibility of an underlying medical problem.
Mood disorders and depression can exist as their own illness, however it can be a symptom of another imbalance. It is important to rule out any endocrine imbalances, in particular, with the thyroid and adrenal glands. When there are improper levels of thyroid hormone circulating in the body, we experience changes in mood and energy.
Chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters can also play a role in how we feel throughout the day. Serotonin is a hormone secreted in the brain, pineal gland, digestive tract and blood platelets. Fluctuating levels of this hormone can contribute to mood disorders.
When our kiddos seem to be frequently edgy, it may be time to assess their eating habits. Sunny summer days are often jam packed with activity, and regular meal times can be forgotten when there are more fun things to do. When kids and adults alike go long periods between eating, blood sugars can get low and patience can get short.
Happy children can go sour pretty quickly when hunger strikes. It’s important to provide balanced meals and snacks of carbohydrates, proteins and fat throughout the day in order to prevent mood swings.
If you’re diligent with keeping the calories in your child and the mood is still less than desirable, then it may be worth looking at what your kid is eating. Food intolerances and sensitivities can play a dramatic role in your kiddo’s behavior. Common food offenders could include wheat, dairy, citrus fruits, eggs, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and soy products.
Gastrointestinal tracts can get traumatized from poor diet, medications, or stress, and the cells in the intestine can become compromised. Instead of maintaining strict control over what passes into the bloodstream, the cells are unable to limit access of larger proteins and waste products. These enter into the blood and are deposited around the body creating systemic symptoms, including disturbing brain and neural function. Determining any food that initiates this cascade so that they can be avoided for a specific time is vital for stabilizing mood fluctuations.
While there can be foods that exacerbate mood disorders based on individual sensitivities, there are other foods that favor brain function and mood elevation.
Fish and seafood are in the spotlight due to their rich source of omega 3 fatty acids. EPA and DHA, two fatty acids, are well studied and have been labeled as mood regulating chemicals. EPA enhances the communication within and between nerve cells. While it is recommended that we eat fish or seafood three times a week, there are concerns about the levels of mercury and PCBs that accumulate in water animals. Limiting or avoiding swordfish, king mackerel, shark, tilefish and albacore tuna is recommended because of their higher mercury and PCB levels. Atlantic and Spanish mackerel, wild Pacific salmon, herring, anchovies and sardines are considered safe and are encouraged.
Nuts and seeds, including walnuts, almonds, pecans, cashews and sunflower seeds, are a rich source of Vitamin E and fatty acids, in particular, mono and polyunsaturated fats.
Zinc, folic acid and Vitamin B12 have been shown to be continuously low in patients suffering from depression. Research has shown that supplementation of these nutrients have elevated mood, enhanced favorable outcomes of anti depressant medication and decrease rebound depressed states once the medication was discontinued.
Food sources of zinc include salmon, chicken, turkey, beef, pork, whole grains, brown rice, yogurt and pumpkin seeds. Spinach, peas, broccoli, avocado, beans, lentils, baker’s yeast and sunflower seeds are great food sources of folic acid. Vitamin B12 is found in beef, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy products.
Turmeric is a valuable mood enhancing food spice. It has neuroprotective properties and its active compound, curcumin, is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Turmeric is a spice used often in East Indian dishes and curries.
Ginger is another great spice with neuroprotective properties and can help elevate depressed moods.
Whenever we have a meltdown in the house, I think about what has been consumed during the day. I try to make the connection to my toddler between skipping a meal or having a sugary snack and his anger or frustration. I’m longing for the day that he says “No thanks, mommy, cookies make me moody!”
© Dr. Amy Wells, Naturopathic Physician
Photo courtesy of B. Clempson.
Category: Your Healthy Nature