Monday, November 20, 2006

Nutrition - Mood Food - Top Tips!

The brain uses 30- 50% of total energy derived from the food we consume, more when used actively. So it's not just physical exertion which can be taxing if energy is not at optimum levels. Improving your energy will improve your brain power and your mood.

We know that a high sugar diet lacks the micronutrients needed to turn it efficiently into energy and because it is so ‘high octane’, it disrupts blood sugar levels.

The foods which allow the human body to function efficiently, with stable blood sugar control, and an ideal all-round supply of the many nutrients involved in maintaining a consistent energy, are the very foods we evolved to eat - unrefined, organic, nutrient-rich wholefoods with an emphasis on lots of vegetables and fruit.

Balancing your blood sugar by eating small regular meals including protein and complex carbohydrates at each meal is required for good energy, brain function and balanced mood (see diagram). Good mood also requires a diet high in tryptophan (precursor to serotonin) and Omega 3 fats, which aid the transmission of nerve impulses needed for normal brain function and help improve memory. The brain is made up of 60% fats!

The main mood modifying neurotransmitters include serotonin - which keeps us emotionally and socially stable, reduces anxiety and influences sleep - dopamine and nor adrenaline, which tend to make us more alert and responsive but anxious if in excess – and acetyl-choline, which keeps our memory working well. These are built from the amino acids: tyrosine, tryptophan and choline, using up specific B vitamins in their conversion; hence a good dietary supply of these is essential.

Depressed, anxious, moody individuals unfortunately often resort to junk food (of poor nutritional value) and comfort eating, or may miss meals due to a lack of self-interest – which further exacerbates the condition. Top tips for eating for better mood are:

• Balance your blood sugar by eating small regular meals including protein and complex carbohydrates at each meal.

• Eat nutrient-rich complex carbohydrates - whole grains, seeds, nuts, brown rice and legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, to combat depression and insomnia.
White or processed foods may cause serotonin depletion and thus depression.

• Eat protein with meals for tryptophan – rich in: fish, eggs, soya protein, turkey, chicken, cottage cheese, sesame seeds and lentils. Avocadoes, oats and bananas are also good sources.

• Eat Omega 3 essential fats found in - cold-water fish (mackerel, anchovies, trout, salmon and tuna) and nuts and seeds (hemp, linseeds, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds)

• Eat more tyrosine containing foods (precursor to dopamine and adrenaline and will help to rebalance apathy, depression and anxiety, keeping us motivated) - leafy vegetables, beans, spinach, almonds, pumpkin seeds, cottage cheese and avocadoes.

• Magnesium and Calcium are known as the calming minerals and help regulate mental health, energy production and sleep cycles. Good sources include: dried figs, cabbage family, brown rice, brazil nuts and almonds, dark green and leafy veg, watercress, sweet potatoes, sunflower and sesame seeds, quinoa, lima beans, peaches, fish and meat.

• Avoid aspartame – marketed as NutraSweet and found in many soft drinks, as it may block the formation of serotonin.

• Reduce your intake of processed, pre-packaged foods – these are high in chemicals, additives, preservatives and colours which research has shown to affect mental function and mood, often severely. Read labels, if you see many ‘E’ numbers (the worst: MSG or E621; E635; E211; E220; E104; E133; E110; E12; E124; E132) or other odd ingredients, avoid the food!

• Limit fried foods, hydrogenated and saturated fats – from meat, dairy and processed food. Avoid trans fats, as they cause blood cells to become sticky and clump together resulting in reduced circulation to the brain. To counter this, ensure a high intake of colourful, antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables.

• Close to bedtime avoid tyramine (this increases levels of noradrenaline, that has stimulant properties and can contribute to insomnia and anxiety) – found in: Caffeine, alcohol, sugar, tobacco, cheese, chocolate, sauerkraut, wine, bacon, ham, sausage, aubergine, potatoes, spinach and tomatoes.

• Avoid stimulants and all forms of sugary snacks and junk foods as the quick burst of energy supplied by these simple carbohydrates is quickly followed by a slump which exacerbates depression, anxiety and irritability. This includes caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.

In addition to the above consider investigating the possibility of food allergies or intolerances and rule out toxic metal contamination, by testing. These contribute to poor brain function, mood and concentration.

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