Many of us are ‘mood’ eaters. When we hit an emotional low, we tend (consciously or not) to reach for ‘comfort foods’ that we hope will make us feel better.
Unfortunately, most of the time the foods we pick are exactly the wrong kind and do no favours to either mind or body.
The good news is that food can help you bounce back to your normal self – so long as you pick the right foods, that is.
Here are some tips on the right type of emotional eating. These “mood foods” will help you snap out of your funk no matter what you’re feeling!
Eat more: energy-bursting foods!
In order to ‘perk-up’ our energy levels, we need to consume foods rich in nutrients, trace minerals, chlorophyll, iron and B12.
1. Dark leafy greens and vegetables (sprouts, spinach, bok choy, broccoli, etc). Dark leafy greens and veggies are loaded in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and enzymes to increase energy and improve mood. Dark leafy greens in particular are high in chlorophyll which increases the number of red blood cells in your body, which help deliver oxygen to your cells. The more oxygen to your cells, the more nutrients will be absorbed, and the more energy you will have. Eating veggies raw preserves the nutritional profile and enzymes, helping to boost overall health and energy levels.
2. Sea veggies (such as arame, nori, dulse and kelp). Sea veggies are extremely high in trace minerals, iron and the amino acid tyrosine. Your body needs minerals to create energy-producing reactions in your cells and sea-veggies are loaded in them! Tyrosine boosts levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. These are neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) known to ‘rev-up’ the brain, which can help you feel more alert and focused. They are also high in iron which also helps to combat fatigue.
3. Clams. Iron deficiency is a significant cause of fatigue, low energy and anemia, especially in women. Without enough iron, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin, which is a type of protein in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen throughout your body giving it energy. At 23.6mg of iron per a 3oz. serving, clams provide one of the highest food sources. Clams are also high in vitamin B12 which is essential to boost energy levels and mental concentration.
4. Free-run eggs. Egg whites are also high in the amino acid Tyrosine which boosts levels of dopamine and helps boots alertness and mental focus. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that influences motivation. In addition, egg yolk from free-run eggs are also a good source of B12 and some Vitamin D which could also improve mood and energy levels.
5. Water. The most common cause of fatigue is dehydration. If there isn’t enough fluid in your body, blood volume can drop. As a result, your body (and heart) must work harder in order to supply your cells with oxygen and nutrients. As a result, poor hydration results in mental fogginess, poor short-term memory, dizziness and fatigue. You should be drinking HALF your body weight in ounces. (For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, you should drink at least 80 ounces of water per day). If you are tired and not drinking that – drink up!
Eat more: ‘Happy mood’ boosting foods!
In order to boost our mood when we are feeling down, it’s best to incorporate foods that release ‘feel-good brain chemicals’ and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are critical in alleviating depression.
1. Cold water fish (such as wild salmon) and/or a fish oil supplement. Cold water oily fish are an excellent source of EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are omega-3 derivatives that are found naturally in oily fish. Research proves that fish oils that have a HIGHER ratio of EPA:DHA (of at least 1,000mg) are significant in effectively treating and reversing the effects of depression. The more omega-3 you have in your blood stream, the more serotonin you are likely to make, and the happier you will feel!
2. Bluegreen Algae (E3 Live). AFA (Aphanizomenon flosaquae) is a bluegreen fresh water algae (commonly known as E3 Live) that is one of the highest natural sources of phenylethylamine. Phenylethylamine (PEA) is a natural mood elevator and anti-depressant. It’s the same compound found in chocolate that perks-up our ‘feel good’ chemicals. However, bluegreen algae has about 50 times more PEA than chocolate! It’s also commonly known as the ‘love molecule’ as it stimulates mood, feelings of overall well-being, and has been described to simulate the same euphoric feeling and feel-good chemical that the body naturally produces during those beginning stages of ‘falling in love’. A shot of this is like being bitten by the ‘happy love bug’! In addition, this also helps to improve attention, concentration, memory and the stabilization of mood swings. Bluegreen Algae is also an excellent source of EPA and DHA (omega-3 derivatives) that act as an anti-depressant.
3. Saffron. Research shows that saffron works just as effectively as Prozac in treating mild to moderate depression – without the side effects! Crocin and safranal, two chemical compounds found in saffron, are reported to relieve depression by raising serotonin and other mood enhancing chemicals in the brain.
4. Brazil Nuts. They’re the richest known source of selenium, a trace mineral that studies suggest can improve mood. Low selenium levels in the diet can lead to irritability and depression. All you need is one or two nuts a day to supply the amount of selenium that researchers found beneficial.
Eat more: “Chill-out” foods
These foods help your body relax and promote ‘brain-calming’ chemicals, such as serotonin. These foods are also typically rich in tryptophan, B-vitamins and magnesium.
1. Sesame Seeds. Sesame seeds are a high source of tryptophan, which is an essential amino responsible for the production of serotonin – a neurotransmitter that relaxes the brain and nervous system (the same amino acid found in turkey that makes us sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner)! In addition sesame seeds are an extremely good source of calcium, which is also essential in combating stress and anxiety.
2. Complex Carbs – such as quinoa and oatmeal. Carbohydrates increase the rate at which tryptophan enters the brain. These complex carbohydrates are also high in tryptophan promoting the calming effects of serotonin production. Eating carbohydrates with tryptophan-containing foods makes this calming amino acid more available to the brain. They also are a high source of B-vitamins, which are essential to help convert the amino acids into neurotransmitters, and help to reduce stress and supports the adrenal glands.
3. Raw Chocolate. Now, while chocolate contains PEA, which promotes a happy, elated feeling, and alleviates depression (as noted above), pure, raw chocolate (or cacao) is also one of the highest sources of magnesium. Magnesium is essential in reducing muscle-tension and promoting relaxation. Chocolate also contains a neurotransmitter known as anandamide that has the ability to alter dopamine levels in the brain, causing a sense of peace and relaxation.
4. Passion Flower. This is a ‘calming’ herb. It has mild sedative effects and promotes sleep. At least one clinical trial has found it to lower anxiety.
These suggestions should help guide you on a path to stop “emotional eating” and start practicing “mindful eating”. Instead of reaching for comfort foods to satisfy an emotional need, focus on what your body is really trying to tell you. And use these foods to help quiet your mind, boost your mood and deal with stress naturally!
• Peggy Kotsopoulos is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist with beVibrant Wellness Consulting, www.bevibrant.ca