You not only ARE what you eat, but you FEEL what you eat. Diet has a significant impact on the brain’s performance, our behaviour, and how we look and feel.
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The levels of neurotransmitters – chemicals that regulate our behavior and are closely linked to mood – are controlled by what we eat. The neurotransmitters most commonly associated with mood are serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Serotonin also plays a role in sleep, relaxation and appetite. Dopamine and norepinephrine additionally play a role in hunger, thirst, digestion, blood pressure regulation, heart rate, respiration, body temperature regulation, aggression and sexuality. Deficiencies, excesses or imbalances of these can cause mental and emotional disturbances, as well as affect our perception of pain and pleasure.
Adequate protein consumption and absorption (requiring proper digestion) is essential for nutritional support of mood and mental function. Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are also building blocks for synthesizing neurotransmitters. Production of neurotransmitters requires other nutrients, too, such as fatty acids, niacin, iron, folate, pyridoxine, copper, calcium, magnesium and lecithin, among others. The absorption of precursor amino acids also depends on the consumption of adequate complex carbohydrates. A varied diet rich in fresh, minimally-processed foods can go a long way in providing these nutrients.
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Here are some helpful guidelines for choosing food to support your mood:
Eat a rainbow a day – include a colorful variety of whole foods to maximise nutrient density. Choose whole fresh foods rather than processed and refined foods.
Every meal and snack should be balanced, containing some protein, fat and complex carbohydrates.
Avoid artificial sweeteners of all types, and limit use of natural sweeteners, including raw sugar, honey, molasses, agave nectar, and fruit juice. Stevia is a good alternative.
Avoid intake of alcohol, caffeine and soft drinks.
Choose healthy sources of dietary fat, like olive oil, nuts and seeds like walnuts and sunflower seeds, and some fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and trout. Limit foods high in saturated fats and avoid hydrogenated (trans-) fats.
Eat adequate lean sources of protein (0.8 g/kg body weight daily). Emphasise wild, cold-water fish (salmon, halibut, mackerel, etc.), legumes, nuts and seeds. *Organically raised poultry and eggs are also good protein sources. Fermented dairy products are also acceptable (yogurt, kefir).
Identify and eliminate food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities, as these may contribute to mood disorders and neurotransmitter imbalance. For instance, gluten found in some grains has been linked to depressive disorders.
Remember, beauty is from the inside out. And a beautiful mood makes you even more beautiful too.