Nutrition News to Help You Be Well and Live Well
Now that school is back in session, and the hustle and bustle of the season is picking up pace, many of us are feeling heightened stress–not to mention the added stressors and tensions of the current times we are living in. During these moments, our bodies and minds can greatly benefit from dietary choices that will help ease our moods and keep us on an even keel. The relationship between food and mood is quite complex and intricate, but we will attempt to address the basic issues and provide some simple suggestions to help you achieve a more balanced, feel-good state of being through your food choices.
In good health,
Sally Stegemann MS, RD, LD
Food and Mood
By Sally Stegemann, MS, RD, LD
Probably everyone has experienced that “hangry” feeling where it’s been a while since your last meal, blood sugar levels are dipping, your stomach is growling, and irritability is setting in. This is a direct effect of lowered blood sugar on hunger and satiety hormones. When you eat something, you almost immediately begin to feel better. But what you eat will impact how well you continue to feel a half hour or hour later and beyond. Many people can appreciate the fact that various hormones have an effect on mood and food intake, but did you also know that dietary choices have a direct and indirect impact on neurotransmitter production? Neurotransmitters are the chemical compounds that are the communicators for your nervous system. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter most greatly affected by food intake. While serotonin has many jobs within the body, it does play a big role in mood. High serotonin levels are associated with boosting mood, elevating pain tolerance, and better sleep. Serotonin levels surge when a person eats a high carbohydrate/low protein meal or snack.
If you find that you tend to crave carbohydrates, it might be that you have a greater need for that serotonin surge to boost your mood and energy levels. Other people who don’t tend to crave carbohydrates may find that a high carbohydrate meal only makes them feel sleepy. For carb cravers, a steak dinner might leave them feeling listless. It’s worth observing and noting which category you fall into (or whether you are somewhere in-between), so that you can make your meal choices accordingly. It is also important to understand that even non-carbohydrate cravers who may lean towards a high protein diet, can feel a sense of tiredness, brain fog, difficulty concentrating and headaches if carbohydrate intake is too low and particularly if fluids and electrolytes are not compensated for (which are excreted in higher amounts by the kidneys on a low carbohydrate diet).
Whether you are a carbohydrate craver or not, it’s important to select carbs that are nourishing and will leave you feeling energized for a longer period of time. So instead of reaching for a sugary snack or a very simple carbohydrate with a high glycemic index like white sandwich bread or white rice (which will bring your blood sugar levels and serotonin levels up quickly, but soon bring them crashing back down again) reach for whole grain alternatives, fresh fruits and starchy vegetables. For example, for an energizing lunch, the carbohydrate craver might choose a bowl of butternut squash soup, a tossed salad topped with beans or nuts and fruit, and sourdough or french bread on the side. The non-carb craver might choose a higher protein lunch such as a scoop of curried chicken salad with cranberries on a bed of salad greens, and sourdough or french bread on the side.
Some serotonin is produced in the brain, but a whopping 95% is produced in the intestines. Many of us have taken the importance of our GI tracts for granted, but it is quite an amazing organ when you consider that it plays such a big role in neurotransmitter and hormone production, as well as a huge role in immune function. Taking good care of our digestive tracts is paramount for overall good health. So what are some ways to nourish your GI tract? You may have heard about the benefits of probiotics (living organisms that are found in cultured foods such as kefir, buttermilk and yogurt or fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi) and prebiotics (types of dietary fibers that provide “food” to the microbes in our intestines). In general, a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from all different food groups will help to keep your GI tract and its microbiome (all of those good bacteria that live in your gut and play a big part in its functioning) in tip-top shape. However, a huge factor that does not often garner enough attention is the effect that GMOs (foods that contain genetically modified organisms and are very prevalent in our food supply) and pesticide residues have on our GI tract. GMOs and pesticide residues have been found to disrupt intestinal microbiota, making room for not-so-good bacteria to thrive in the intestines and therefore wreaking havoc on the functioning of our GI systems. When possible, you may find it’s a good idea to look for non-GMO and/or organic options.
Remember, food and mood is a complex interaction of many factors, but paying attention to your food intake and how you feel can help you make choices that will significantly impact the quality of your daily life. In addition, small changes over time can add up to big benefits. If you would like much more in-depth information about food and mood, I recommend this wonderful book: https://www.amazon.com/Food-Mood-Complete-Eating-Feeling/dp/0805062009
For more details on gut health, visit: https://nikkiyeltonrd.com/a-gut-health-nutritionists-guide-to-gmos/#:~:text=Altered%20Digestive%20Health,Decreased%20naturally%20occurring%20enzymes
For a carbohydrate-lover’s fall breakfast treat, try the recipe below. Non-carbohydrate cravers may want to serve with eggs on the side!
1 cup whole wheat flour (may use white whole wheat flour for a slightly lighter texture)
½ cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 tablespoons cooking oil (such as light-tasting olive oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- In a large bowl, whisk together the first 8 ingredients (whole wheat flour through nutmeg). In a separate bowl, whisk together the last six ingredients (buttermilk through brown sugar).
- Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and blend together with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until just combined. Lumps are ok, just make sure all the flour on the bottom of the bowl is mixed in. If the batter seems too thick, you can gently stir in a little more buttermilk.
- Drop pancakes by spoonfuls onto a medium-hot griddle. Pancakes are ready to turn when the edges start to look a little dry and you can see small bubbles forming on the surface.
Notes: You may use all-purpose flour in place of the cake flour, just use a smidge less. You may also substitute light brown sugar or regular granulated sugar for the dark brown sugar. If you have pumpkin pie spice on hand, you may use 2 teaspoons of that in place of the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
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