Everyone knows that food can affect your weight. Eating too many calories or consuming a high-sugar, highly processed diet will likely cause you to put on some pounds. But did you know that what you eat can also affect many other areas of your health — from your mood to how well you sleep to your ability to concentrate, even your chances of developing depression and anxiety?
Your body needs a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to keep you in great physical and mental condition, so it’s important to nourish yourself with the right foods and drinks. Read on to find out how food can affect more than your weight.
How Food Affects Your Mood
If your blood sugar fluctuates too much, it can leave you feeling tired and irritable. Ideally, you want to be eating foods that keep your blood sugar stable which includes complex carbs such as brown rice, oats and whole grains. If you are following a paleo, keto, or low carb diet, you would want to choose nuts and seeds instead of grains.
Some foods can have a direct effect on your mood too. Fatty fish is packed with omega 3 fatty acids that affect the production of neurotransmitters in your brain, especially serotonin and dopamine. Both of these have a really strong link with your mood and low levels are linked to mood disorders. Fatty fish isn’t the only food that gives you an omega 3 boost; flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts are also great sources. For dopamine, make sure you’re getting plenty of poultry, fish, eggs and leafy greens in your diet. This salmon recipe is super easy to make and will give you your needed omega 3s.
Protein is another nutrient that can affect your mood. A lot of foods with protein contain tryptophan, an amino acid that can help your body to produce more serotonin and dopamine. Chicken and turkey are good sources but if you’re a vegetarian, you can eat beans, lentils, and quinoa to reap the benefits. You can make this scrumptious chicken dish to get your needed protein and tryptophan.
What you’re not eating can also be important. According to studies, not getting enough folate or B vitamins can make you more prone to depression and have a negative impact on your sleep and energy levels. Greens are a great source of folate so be sure to include plenty of leafy greens, broccoli and peas if you’re struggling with low mood. Low selenium levels are also linked to fatigue, anxiety and even depression. Snack on walnuts or a handful of Brazil nuts to get your selenium levels up.
Depression and anxiety may be linked to chemical imbalances in the brain but some nutrients are thought to make this more likely, especially if you’re deficient in them. For example, low levels of vitamin D are linked to a higher risk of depression and experts believe that getting enough vitamin D can be crucial for a healthy mind. Natural sunlight is the best option, but you can also get vitamin D from your diet through fatty fish, eggs, and liver. This is the better option when the sun isn’t out in colder climates. If you’re severely deficient, you can take vitamin D supplements. I would recommend if you are supplementing to get your vitamin D levels checked regularly, as it is possible for it to be too high.
How Food Affects Sleep
You might not realize it but what you eat can have a big impact on how well you sleep. Some foods are known to encourage sleep because of the nutrients they contain. Anything containing magnesium is a good bet, according to studies. Need a magnesium boost? Go for leafy greens (especially spinach), almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and a high-quality dark chocolate.
Another important nutrient is vitamin B6, which your body uses to make both melatonin and serotonin. If you’re not aware of melatonin and its role in the body, it’s known as the “sleep hormone”. This gives you an indication of how important it is for sleep! Our melatonin levels can be disrupted by “blue light” from screens and devices. As low levels of melatonin can make it hard to sleep well, it’s definitely something you want to be producing a decent amount of.
When it comes to melatonin, tryptophan helps here too (not just with mood!) as it helps your body to make more melatonin. Chicken, turkey, milk, nuts, and seeds all contain tryptophan and can help more melatonin be produced. You can go a step further than this though as walnuts actually contain melatonin, according to a study from the University of Texas.
How Food Affects Concentration
If you find yourself struggling with concentration and focus, it’s time to look at your diet and whether you’re eating foods that are known to help.
A 2013 study found that people who were drinking 2 cups of cacao every day for a month were able to improve blood flow to their brains, which led to better results in memory tests. If you’d rather not drink a cup of cacao, a square of high-quality dark chocolate (minimum 70% cacao) can have a similar effect as long as they aren’t high in sugars or other additives.
In a 2012 report, drinking blueberry juice daily for two months also led to better performance on memory and learning tests. This means that snacking on blueberries can be perfect if you need a focus boost! They happen to be one of my favorite snacks when I’m seeking something sweet.
And of course, there’s always water! Dehydration can cause tiredness and concentration problems, even if you’re only slightly dehydrated. Drinking a glass of water could be all you need to get more focused if dehydration is the problem.
Food wise, the omega 3 fatty acids in salmon can reduce cognitive decline and keep your brain sharp and focused. Another good reason to eat fatty fish a couple of times per week!
Now that you know how food affeccts your mood, what did you notice you might need to add to your diet this week to counteract your nutritional imbalance?