Do you feel like kicking the cat? Or telling the boss to go to hell? Or feel that it's getting harder and harder to get your act together each day? If so, the solution may not be to reach for Prozac. Some authorities claim the answer may be on your dinner plate. So how does food affect our moods?
Dr. Churched Jeejeebhoy, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, reports in The Medical Post that certain foods are often associated with a feeling of happiness and an optimistic mood.
Jeejeebhoy cites studies from the department of psychology at the University of Wales. Students were given a variety of breakfast combinations. Researchers discovered that a breakfast low in calories, carbohydrates, and fat, but high in fiber, gives a boost to happiness and helps memory.
Jack Challen, a food expert, reports that people's moods have become worse in recent years due to a combination of stress and junk foods. He says this leads to irritability, impatience, anger, panic attacks, fuzzy thinking, and addictive behavior that he labels the "pissy mood syndrome."
But does science back up these claims? Researchers say that food intake affects mood due to biochemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters. These control mood, thoughts, and behaviors. We are the most sensitive to serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
Serotonin levels are increased by carbohydrates, which can cause a sense of well-being, but also drowsiness.
Dopamine and norepinephrine are responsible for alertness, increased energy, and speedier reaction times. So if you feel sluggish, what you need is a good source of protein, such as meat, chicken, fish, [fermented] soy, nuts, eggs, and dairy products. All are rich in these neurotransmitters.
Tired at lunchtime? Add four ounces of protein to the noonday meal.
But remember, overeating, regardless of the amount of protein in a meal, is a prime cause for drowsiness. That is why heads start to droop after the Thanksgiving dinner as food-overload directs blood to the stomach and away from the brain. Light meals that contain 300 to 500 calories are the right prescription for an alert mind.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood, particularly salmon, shrimp, and lobster, along with walnuts may also help to decrease depression.
Nutritionists say that drinking several glasses of water daily keeps people well hydrated and combats moodiness. So be careful on an up-and-down day to limit caffeine and alcohol intake, as they're both diuretics causing urinary frequency and dehydration. But also note the beneficial and relaxing effects of an alcoholic drink at day's end.
One clear message is to limit sugar intake. Foods high in sugar are bad mood foods. They provide a short temporary lift in mood, but an hour later "sugar blues" follows the "sugar highs." This means shunning snacks and packaged foods usually loaded with sugar.
Still feel that you want to kick the cat? Before you toss in the towel and reach for Prozac, try a little chocolate which contains over 300 compounds that have an effect on mood.
Chocolate has been used for centuries for health-inducing purposes. The Aztecs concocted a frothy, chocolate beverage that was believed to impart vitality and wisdom. It's been reported that Casanova ate chocolate before each of his many sexual escapades. Maybe this helped Casanova. But what about his partners? A study done several years ago showed that more than 50 percent of women surveyed preferred chocolate to sex!
Today, due to the stress of modern society, too many people reach for anti-depressant drugs, which are associated with side effects. It makes much more sense to first try changes in lifestyle. A healthy diet is a good start. And we know that daily exercise increases the body's supply of endorphins, a morphine-like substance that makes the sky look bluer.
Try these measures. Even the cat will be pleased with less of that "pissy mood syndrome" in the home.
Dr. Gifford-Jones is a medical journalist with a private medical practice in Toronto.
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