Food and Mood: Explaining the connection and offering some solutions

You’ve had it, right? All you want to eat is something “crunchy & salty” or “soft & sweet”. Perhaps you’re just moody and don’t really have the motivation or the mind set to make better choices when it comes to meals, snacking and more snacking. There are a number of reasons why the winter takes a toll on our dispositions. The combination of short days with little sunlight, less exercise, and the need to bundle up every time you want to run a simple errand is reason enough to just want to stay inside. The cravings are a secondary response. Research supports the theory that carbohydrates stimulate serotonin production and therefore eating them is a subconscious attempt to relieve depression. It has been found that high carbohydrate meals raise serotonin levels while fatty or protein rich meals tend to lower them. The type of carbohydrate voluntarily chosen by research subjects seems to be based upon its glycemic index (how high it causes blood sugar levels to peak). The higher glycemic index carbohydrates like sugar and chocolate have a greater effect on serotonin than starchy, lower glycemic index foods like yams. Understanding this connection, there are a few ways to help combat the winter blahs before they cause too much damage, physically, mentally and emotionally. Studies indicate that a diet rich in folate and omega-3 fatty acids may also help prevent and control depression. Scientists have found that people with the least amount of folate in their bodies tend to be the most depressed. It has also been shown that levels of serotonin can be regulated by maintaining a proper balance of omega-3s to omega-6s in the diet, not just eating carbohydrates constantly! The following folate and omega-3 rich foods may help take the edge off:
  • Whole-grain breakfast cereals
  • Lentils
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach
  • Beans
  • Tomato juice
  • Broccoli
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Canola oil
  • Flax seeds
Beyond your regulating your diet, regular exercise is another effective way to help consistently lift your mood. A study reported last month in the New York Times found that people with mild to moderate depression can significantly reduce their symptoms if they exercise aerobically. The goals of this study were to scientifically establish that exercise helps with depression and to find out how much exercise was necessary. The researchers took 20 adults ages 20 to 45 with diagnoses of depression and separated them into groups: some did aerobic activity others did flexibility exercises. None were taking medication for depression. After 12 weeks, the researchers found that patients who worked out for half an hour three to five times a week reported half the symptoms of depression that they had before the program began. Basically, the more they exercised, the less depressed they reported to feel. Too little aerobic activity created the same results as the stretching group. So, beyond reducing stress and improving body image it has been consistently established that aerobic exercise increases the amount of pleasure-inducing endorphins in the brain…. I can not emphasize this enough -- just 20 to 30 minutes a day can have a positive effect on your brain chemistry, body weight, and the chances of a brighter outlook.


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