Feed your Brain to Improve your Mood
Feeling tired, sluggish and cranky?
by Jenn Gashinski, RD
Most of us feel cranky and sluggish at one time or another but a lack of sleep and stress aren’t the only culprits. It may be the foods you’re eating or not eating! You know that organs such as your stomach and heart are affected by what you eat. Your brain is also an organ that needs good nutrition.
While some foods may boost your mood – chocolate anyone?! – they only trick your brain for a little while. The key to lasting benefits is to regularly provide your body with the nutrients it needs. (No skipping meals!) Clients who improve their diet are often amazed by the improvement in their mood.
Seven Changes to your Plate that Improve Your Mood
- Essential fatty acids –There are a variety of dietary fats, but the one many of us do not get enough is omega 3. Low levels of omega 3s are associated with depression and negative moods. Sources are fatty fish, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, ground flax, chia seeds and hemp hearts. Try to eat salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, or herring two to three times a week. Include plant-based sources daily. Your heart will thank you as well!
- Trans fats – Get rid of trans fats in your diet. On top of being bad for your heart, these fats negatively impact your brains omega 3 regulation. Check for trans fats on nutrition facts labels and look for the words hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated or shortening in ingredients.
- Complex carbohydrates – A low-carb diet can lead to fatigue, decreased alertness and headaches. The brain likes glucose (which it gets by breaking down carbohydrates). It uses around 20% of the carbs we eat. Carbs also help our brain absorb the amino acid tryptophan which lets it make more mood-boosting serotonin.But, not all carbohydrates are equal. Reduce refined, simple ones such as added sugar, juice, pop, white bread, pastries … the list goes on. These offer a fast sugar high, followed by a crash that leaves us feeling miserable. Complex carbs take longer to break down and give the brain a steady supply of energy. Switch to 100% whole grains. Fill up on starchy vegetables, such as squash. Eat more beans, lentils and chickpeas.
- Vitamin D – Low Vitamin D levels are linked with depression and mood disorders. We get Vitamin D from the sun, but living where we do, it is often not enough. Since food sources are limited to fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified foods such as milk, you may need a supplement. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends adults take 1000IU/day in the winter. As we age we may not synthesize Vitamin D well, so Health Canada advises people aged 50+ to take 400IU daily all year.
- Hydration – Water is essential but many of my clients don’t get enough. Early effects of not enough are feeling irritable and weak. At this point, we often mistake thirst for hunger. To help you get 8 cups a day, I recommend jazzing it up with citrus fruits, cucumbers, basil or mint, or frozen fruit. Don’t swap for juice or pop… Remember Point 3.
- Caffeine –Some of us tolerate caffeine well and some don’t. If you feel anxious or nervous during the day and are not sure why look at your caffeine intake. Slowly decrease it and see if you feel better. We should have no more than 400mg/day, but some suffer effects at more than 200mg. That amounts to 1.5 to 3 cups of coffee.
- Paint your plate – Include a variety of colours of fruits and vegetables to provide vitamins and minerals necessary for good brain health.