Food and mood
You probably know people who seem to do fine on a junk-food diet, or sail through the day on only two food groups. Others find themselves extremely sensitive to the composition of their diet. Carbohydrates put them to sleep, sugar knocks them out, too much time between meals sends them into a stupor.
Food improves mood when your eating habits help you maintain a healthy blood sugar level — not too high, not too low. We’ve all experienced the fatigue and irritability that can result from being hungry, and the sleepy overstuffed feeling of eating too much. People sensitive to blood sugar ups-and-downs often find that eating five or six small meals a day helps them feel more alert and cheerful than three larger meals. A general recommendation is to eat high-protein meals and snacks when you need to be alert, and complex carbohydrates when you want to relax. Experiment with various foods and meal plans to see what works best for you. Don’t forget to make heart-healthy foods the focus of your diet so you stay healthy as well as happy.
Adequate nutrition is essential for well-being. Although we are a country of plenty, many people have marginal intakes of important nutrients. Several neurotransmitters (the chemicals that allow nerve cells to communicate with each other and other cells) are manufactured from dietary components. Serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine are some examples with which you may be familiar. Amino acids (contained in proteins), B vitamins, vitamin C and several minerals are important in the manufacturing of these neurotransmitters. Groups most likely to suffer from marginal nutrition include people with low-caloric intake (less than 2,000 calories a day) and older adults. Probably the worst culprit for mood disturbance is the very-low-calorie diet. While some dieters experience a temporary euphoria, over time food cravings develop, along with fatigue, depression and irritability. Food cravings can lead to binging, frustration and an increasing obsession with controlling food intake and appetite.
While we think of them as part of our diet, caffeinated and alcoholic beverages are actually drugs that have strong effects on mood. That’s why they are so popular. Why not rely on these substances to provide the mood regulation that we seek? While a small amount of these substances appears to be safe for most people, larger amounts lead to negative health effects and even interfere with the original good mood produced by the first cup or glass. One or two servings of a caffeinated beverage can provide an uplift, but too much caffeine makes us nervous and anxious, and can lead to sleep disturbances. Too much alcohol makes us … well, drunk, as well as tired, irritable and stressed. Some people find even one drink leaves them more fatigued the next day.
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