We know the expression: “You are what you eat.” However, the correct statement should be you feel what you eat. As winter approaches–with fewer minutes of daylight everyday affecting people’s moods–it’s more important than ever to pay attention to a diet. We’ve always suspected that a junk food diet makes us feel lousy. Many of us didn’t always understand why.
The best way to explain this is to clarify what neurons are and how important they are to how your body functions. Neurons are the messengers that communicate between your brain and the rest of your nervous system. Most people do not know just how many neurons are found in the stomach (also sometimes referred to as the second brain). Your stomach “contains some 100 million neurons. This is more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system” according to  Scientific American. Ultimately, your gut health can decide, at least to some extent, if you are in a good mood or a bad mood.
Food allergies and intolerances
People with food allergies or intolerances are especially affected by this. If you have food allergy or intolerance, your stomach neurons might send out warning signs that something is not right. When an offending food enters the body, physical symptoms begin to let their body know that it has to be on guard for the food that is not welcome and is not making that person feel well. This message sets off physical, behavioral and chemical changes just from a food. Symptoms of a reaction can include digestive problems, hives, or swollen airways. Severe reactions can be life-threatening. Even if you don’t suffer from any allergies or intolerances, you can feel this. Simple dietary choices can leave you with a boost of energy or feeling less optimal.
Athletes have special dietary needs
Athletes also have unique dietary needs. Those training for elite sports competitions in particular need to tweak their diets. Their diet should have vitamins, minerals and extra protein for muscle repair. If the wrong foods are eaten, it affects their mood and stamina. Eating foods at the wrong time can also leave one feeling sluggish and even a bit uncomfortable.
Foods that will increase the chances of a happier mood
Keep in mind that not everyone can eat certain foods depending on dietary restrictions, lifestyle choices or religious allowances and any uncertainty should be researched prior to beginning any new foods that you are unsure of.
Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids
Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids can lower the risk of heart disease. Studies also show they favorably affect one’s mood. Omega-3 fatty acid rich foods include fish/seafood, dairy, juices, whole grains and fresh vegetables. Nuts and seeds are also good sources. Try mixing flaxseeds and chia seeds into your smoothies or baked goods for extra nutrition.
Dried fruits contain various vitamins, fiber and magnesium. These keep your stomach in line and your body relaxed as magnesium reduces anxiety and lowers stress. Bananas and cantaloupe are just two of the many fruits that contain magnesium. Try adding these to your daily snack regime whether in their fresh, dried or freeze-dried form.
Foods that contain tryptophan
Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps to produce serotonin and melatonin, which can influence sleep and mood. Several studies suggest that sleep deprived people feel more irritable, angry and hostile. Sleep loss is also associated with depression. In addition, sleep deprivation is associated with greater emotional reactivity. Dairy, eggs, nuts and seeds all contain tryptophan.
Limit your sugar
Although people often eat sugar for a pick-me-up, it interferes with the balance of hormones. It also causes spikes in blood levels. Try eating foods without added sugar. Other ways to cure the sugar fix, eat a protein that contains natural sugar. Consider sunflower seed butter to feel satisfied without a sugar crash.
Our foods could be considered our “mood planners.” It’s fine to occasionally indulge on less-than-healthy snack options. But listen to your body. It will tell you when you have overdone it. Consider paying attention to when you choose those unhealthy munchies and how they make you feel in the long run. You’ll be glad you did!