There is a substantial and growing body of science that reveals how our food choices affect our moods. Generally, excessive amounts of alcohol (no surprise), simple sugars (think candy and pastries), as well as caffeine and certain vitamin deficiencies can negatively impact your mood.
There are foods that help and foods and beverages that hinder intentions to feel good, and enjoy our relationships, our work, and our health. This is a big topic and in this post I'm sharing some foods and recommendations to improve mental acuity, concentration, memory, focus, and overall health. These contribute to our abilty to be happy and enjoy our lives.
Caffeine: Found in coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, and some medications, caffeine gives you that unmistakable wake-up buzz, though the effects are short-term. And more caffeine is often less helpful: Overdo it on caffeine and it can make you jittery, uncomfortable, and less able to concentrate. The come-down from excessive caffeine can create irritability and a down mood, and for people prone to depressed moods or anxiety too much caffeine can trigger dysphoria. Limit coffee to two cups per day or less if your system is sensitive.
Sugar: Sugar is your brain's preferred fuel source – but it's best if not refined or ‘table’ sugar, rather, glucose, which your body creates from the carbs you eat. That's why a glass of something sweet to drink can offer a short-term boost to memory, thinking, and mental ability. But consume too much though, and your memory can be impaired -- along with the rest of you. Go easy on the sugar so it can enhance your cognitive functioning without adding too many calories and pounds.
Breakfast: This should go without saying, but I still occasionally hear clients report they don't eat breakfast. Your metabolism does not get kicked into gear each morning by coffee, it needs some carbohydrates. But again, as with sugar, the carbs are best if complex rather than simple. So get your motor running each day by eating high-fiber whole grains, dairy, and fruits. Just don't overeat; researchers also found high-calorie breakfasts appear to hinder concentration, create a sluggishness and a feeling as if the entire day will be uphill.
Fish: Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are key for brain health. These healthy fats have amazing brain power: Eat two servings a week of fish, better to avoid Swordfish, Shark, King Mackerel, Orange Roughy, and Ahi, due to high levels of mercury. For a more complete listing of low mercury fish see: http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/guide.asp
Nuts & Chocolate: That’s right chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, and brazil nuts provide various antioxidants, some caffeine, and very little sugar. Antioxidants are important because they prevent biological deterioration of cells, and neurons in the brain function more effectively when there is less oxidation due to toxic free radical molecules that are so destructive. (But this is certainly an example where just because a little is good, that doesn't mean a lot is even better.)
Blueberries: This 'superfood' provides high levels of antioxidants. And as noted above, antioxidants help to maintain good brain functioning, memory, and a host of other benefits.
Vitamins & Minerals: Although many of the reports on the brain-boosting power of supplements like vitamins B, C, E, beta-carotene, and magnesium are promising, a supplement is only useful to people whose diets are lacking in that specific nutrient. Researchers are cautiously optimistic about ginseng, ginkgo, and vitamin, mineral, and herb combinations and their impact on the brain.
Healthy Oils: Monounsaturated fat that helps with healthy blood flow and that’s important because your brain is less than 3 percent of your body weight, but uses over 20 percent of your blood oxygen. Nutrients that facilitate blood flow helps to keep your brain supplied with this vital element.
Moderation: If your diet lacks essential nutrients, it can hurt your ability to concentrate, to maintain a positive perception of your experiences, the ability to think clearly and constructively. Eating too much or too little can also interfere with feeling well, being alert, and functioning in an effective manner. A heavy meal may make you feel tired, while too few calories can result in distracting hunger pangs.
If you have a medical condition or are taking medications,check with your doctor to ensure these tips are compatible for you.
Making even minor changes in your eating patterns can have an impact on maintaining an optimistic view of life, and the capacity to feel good and think clearly. I invite you to post your experience with any of these ideas.
Mind, Mood, and Memory, Feb 2014