Food has always influenced our moods and moreover it influences our state of health, and as Hippocrates said, ‘let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food’.

There has always been a relationship with food and mood and how our temperament is affected by what we eat, for example, in medieval times people would eat dates and elderberries to enhance their mood and lettuce and chicory were seen to tranquilize us, or calm us down. Erotic stimulants were eggs and beef. Food has always been relied upon to change the way we feel, although historic scientific evidence is not easy to find.

Fast forward to modern day – and there are many scientific studies which teach us that certain types of food affect our brain structure and our chemistry which in turn affects our mood and performance.  Foods directly influence brain neurotransmitter systems that affect our mood, which in turn then affects our energy levels and of course our ongoing food choices.  This is when we make the mistake of thinking that we deserve a treat as we’ve had a grueling day at the office and then we make the wrong choice.

Getting it right is complex though. It depends on the time of the day, the type of food, i.e. the composition of the macronutrient (Proteins), also the amount of food eaten, as well as age and gender of the person.  Also, our circadian rhythms influence our energy levels throughout the day (especially seen when we nap in the afternoons). Basically, we are all different and there is no hard-fast rule that we can really stick to as it relates to eating the right foods to keep us feel energized and on top form.

But we can make a start and try to only eat good solid healthy high energy foods and foods that make us feel happy with the way we handle our eating habits, food that keep our weight at the correct level and basically food for fuel as opposed to food that just fills us up to a point where we are tired because we spend hours digesting.

Serotonin, sometimes known as ‘the happy hormone’ is a key neurotransmitter that is produced in the brain from tryptophan, and is contained in turkey, milk, spinach, eggs, nuts, plums, pineapple and bananas. And if you love an oyster or escargots as do the French, you will be able to get rich amounts of tryptophan from those delicacies.  That said, the synthesis of serotonin in the brain is limited by the availability of this large amino acid, so it’s not a given that eating a wholesome turkey sandwich will put you in a great mood once you’ve eaten it. I did say it was complex!

But to sum it up, in real terms, it is best to follow a well-balanced diet which is high in (lean) proteins and moderate in simple carbohydrates.  Ensuring that we contain a nice steady intake of micronutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids, folic acid and iron, as well as all the B vitamins, vitamin A, C and D (from the sunshine), and calcium.  And that we eat small meals throughout the day and definitely eat a good hearty breakfast every day containing eggs and avocado for protein and good fats, and if peckish, snack on nuts and dried fruits, drink plenty of water and avoid large amounts of mood changing stimulants like coffee, tea and alcohol.  Be kind to yourself!

Yvonne Wake BSc MSc RPHNutri, Life Coach

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