Having a bad day? You might be tempted to reach for that chocolate bar or tub of ice cream, but Melody Chong, certified health coach at Panasia Surgery Group, says you should think twice.
“Sugar and junk food can give us a high but the effect is only temporary,” she warns. The crash from a sugar high can instead lead to a dip in your mood. Quoting Julia Ross, a pioneer in the field of nutritional psychology, Melody says that people today experience chronic unhappiness in part due to the deteriorating quality of foods that are increasingly accessible to us.
Your emotional wellbeing is intertwined with the food you eat. Think about that warm and fuzzy feeling you get after you drink a warm bowl of soup, or how you tend to feel more focused after eating a protein-rich meal. On a date with Hubby, you might crave more aphrodisiac foods like oysters and chocolate without even realising it.
Melody says that there is a scientific basis behind the food-mood relationship.
The food that’s broken down in our digestive tracts and absorbed into the bloodstream can trigger the release of neurotransmitters – chemical messengers that relay thoughts and actions throughout the brain.
Melody cites an example. “Eating carbohydrates releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that relaxes you. But an overload of carbohydrates can lead to drowsiness,” she explains. “Eating protein produces dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which make you more alert and full of energy. But overeating protein can lead to tension and irritability.”
Eating to feel happier
According to Melody, loading up on whole grains, dark leafy vegetables, tofu, fish, chicken, avocados, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds can boost your mood.
She explains: “A study in 2014 showed that people who consumed more water, fibre, ascorbic acid, tryptophan (an essential amino acid) and other key minerals such as magnesium and selenium contained in these foods reported having a better mood overall.”
The same study also suggested that the wider the variety of fruits and vegetables you have in your overall diet, the better your mood gets.
Melody believes that food also has its own energy, beyond vitamins, minerals, fats and carbohydrates, which we assimilate into our own bodies. She cites Joshua Rosenthal, author of Integrative Nutrition: “Food has distinct qualities and energetic properties, depending on where, when and how it grows, as well as how it is prepared. For example, vegetables have a lighter energy than protein. Animal meat that’s derived from tortured animals has a different energy than the meat of animals that lived in a peaceful existence.”
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Steve Gagne, author of Energetics of Food: Encounters with Your Most Intimate Relationships, expounds on this idea, suggesting that each type of food has an essential character, depending on where it comes from.
Vegetables that reach up towards the sun, such as kale, collards and bok choy, are rich in green chlorophyll and provide our blood with oxygen. For this reason, he says, greens are powerful mood enhancers.
Squash and gourds that are level with the ground, help balance moods and energy levels.
Root vegetables, like carrots, parsnips, beets and burdock, grow into the ground and absorb the nutrients from the soil in which they grow. This results in them having a strong downward energy – great for grounding us when we feel over-stimulated.
And more important, fresh produce has a greater amount of energy than foods that are heavily processed or that have been reused a day or two later. Melody says that when you eat foods with more energy, you too, will have more energy.