It won’t come as a surprise that what you eat affects how you feel, so it follows that the more “whole” we eat, the more “whole” we are and the “cleaner” we eat, the “cleaner” our minds will be.
Nutrition and psychology specialist Kristina Turner explores just this in her text, The Self-Healing Cookbook: Whole Foods to Balance Body, Mind and Moods. She found a food-mood connection based on extreme eating patterns that throw your body and mood off balance. One of the easiest ways to evaluate whether your diet is out of balance is to simply listen to and observe your moods. Do you often feel sad and sensitive? Are you always feeling angry and impatient? Or do you swing between both…a lot?
Some symptoms to watch out for are the affects of too much sugar, alcohol and processed foods. You might notice yourself feeling briefly elated and energized, only for it all to come crashing down, making it hard to focus and your mood might even take a turn for the worse. Similarly, too much salt, meat, cheese or eggs can make you feel aggressive, competitive and very “type-A,” then suddenly impatient, frustrated, compulsive and even angry. Your mom was right when she said that too much of anything isn’t good for you.
In general, although everyone reacts to food differently, I recommend limiting the intake of wheat, gluten, dairy, and processed/refined foods, which are known to hinder digestion and mental clarity. Increasing the intake of water and coconut water, greens and veggies, whole grains and foods rich in Omega3 will help with optimal brain function and a great mood!
Here are a few foods that will have you feeling your best:
Water or Coconut Water: Coconut water claims to have 15 times more electrolytes than sports drinks and more potassium than a banana. In addition to being good post-workout, potassium and electrolytes are also very important to the nervous system, helping oxygenate the brain for clear thinking and peak brain function. The minerals also help cleanse the system allowing the body to rid itself of toxins. You’ll be finishing that difficult Sudoku puzzle faster than ever after incorporating it into your diet. Coconut water even claims to help cure hangovers—one of the many reasons that it’s ALWAYS in our fridge!
Whole Grains: Whole grains are a great source of B vitamin—the “thinking and feeling” vitamin—which nourishes brain function and development. It is also one of the best sources of dietary fiber, which aids in cleansing the system and provides long-lasting energy to the body (think: no 4PM slump at work). The “Whole Grain” cereals at the supermarket aren’t your only options. Some of our favorites include quinoa, millet, rice, amaranth, buckwheat and rolled oats.
Omega 3s: These essential nutrients help provide optimal brain function. Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid, which must be obtained throughout your diet because it cannot be manufactured by our bodies. Some of your favorite foods already contain Omega 3s:
Walnuts: It’s no coincidence that a walnut looks like a little brain. In fact, research has shown that walnuts help develop more than three dozen neuron-transmitters for brain function. Cool, right?
Fish Oil & Wild Salmon: The Omega 3s in fish help improve memory and mood. Believe it or not, in Japan, a traditional breakfast includes salmon because they consider it real brain food and many doctors are beginning to prescribe fish oil to help alleviate depression. If you don’t consume fish on a daily basis (like most of us), consider taking a fish oil supplement (high quality only, please!).
Flaxseed Oil & Flaxseeds: Some great ways to incorporate flaxseed or flaxseed oil are to sprinkle them onto your oatmeal, into soups, or on top of your Ezekiel English muffin with nut butter in the morning. You’ll get a little extra crunch and nutrition! Just be sure that if you use the seed form that they’re ground for optimal absorption.
Seeds & Nuts: All seeds and nuts contain protein, high amounts of fiber and are rich in beneficial fats. They also contain lots of vitamin B, E and magnesium, which are essential to cognitive function. Some particularly good ones are pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews and walnuts. Sprinkle them onto salads, cereal, soups or just add to your homemade granola or trailmix!
Vegetables and Greens: These are some of the most important ingredients in your diet. They are known to purify the blood, oxygenate the brain and strengthen the immune system. Broccoli and spinach aren’t the only feel-good and look-good greens. Next time you make a salad, try chopping in raw kale—the flat kind (lacinato/dinosaur) and the curly kind. Steaming or sautéing bok choy and sprinkling it with a little toasted sesame oil is especially delicious too.
The foods mentioned above will help you break the cycle of endless cravings for sugary or salty snacks. Put the jar of chocolate covered pretzels down and pick up a healthy handful of nuts in the afternoon. Staying hydrated and nourished with whole foods, especially greens, fish, nuts and seeds all day, every day will provide your body with WHOLE nutrition, balance, steady energy, fewer cravings and less dramatic moods -keeping you sane (and your boyfriend less crazed).