You probably wouldn’t try to keep your car engine running with anything other than gasoline as fuel, right? Your body is no different. It consistently requires the right energy source(s) to function properly.
And you’ve probably heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” The deepest meaning of that statement alludes to the role that food plays in your life, and your mood. The brain is a constant rush-hour traffic highway system. The part that controls mood, the limbic system, connects to the part that controls body regulation, the hypothalamus.
Literally, everything you eat affects your brain, therefore affecting every other aspect of your mental, emotional and physical feelings, not just your general health.
“We know that when we eat high-quality foods, nutrient-dense foods, that we feel better and more balanced, not only physically but also emotionally,” said Laura Poland, a licensed dietitian and founder of Dietitian in Your Kitchen in Westerville.
By maintaining balance in the following areas, you can work to naturally reverse negative dietary effects on your mental state.
Stress Incorporate dark green vegetables and citrus into your diet, which contain significant amounts of magnesium and vitamin C. Stress causes magnesium to move from your cells into your blood plasma. A magnesium deficiency from stress can cause chronic fatigue, muscle tension and insomnia, which can also cause depression, Poland said.
Depression Include nuts like pecans, walnuts and almonds, which will help boost your serotonin levels. Amino acids found in proteins are closely linked to the levels of serotonin, an important chemical neurotransmitter that influences mood. Poland makes sure to include an ounce of nuts in her diet per day.
Anxiety Foods such as beets, lean meats, milk and fortified breakfast cereals are good sources of vitamin B. Studies show that nerve function is heavily reliant upon B vitamins, Poland said. Vitamin B6 helps the body produce serotonin and norepinephrine, which affect mood and cognitive function.
Alertness Anti-inflammatory foods like eggs and fish have a healthy supply of omega-3 fatty acids and zinc. Low levels of zinc have been shown to decrease alertness and the body’s ability to focus. Zinc has been linked to dopamine production in the body, responsible for concentration and motivation. Cocoa contains polyphenols, which help to keep your mind sharp by dilating your blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the brain. When you’re feeling on top of your game, it’s hard for much to bring you down.
Energy Carbohydrates are one of the best energy sources for your body, just make sure they’re mostly high in fiber and nutrient-dense, which you can find in fruits and vegetables. It’s important that you add some proteins as well though. Carbohydrates cause a spike and then a drop in blood sugar, which can quickly reverse energy levels. Glucose is the brain and central nervous system’s only fuel source, Poland said, and consuming a protein with a carb will help stabilize the sugars.
“It’s really difficult to get enough fruits and vegetables in a day, and if you’re going to have a meal or snack, make sure there’s a fruit or a vegetable in there.”
Don’t feel the pressing need to overhaul your entire diet tomorrow to include all these foods. Poland even admits that she doesn’t hit all these ideal foods every day. It’s more about being aware of essential staples for your diet and working to incorporate them as often as possible.