The foods you eat can make you angry, sad, tired, grouchy, even hostile. While Americans increasingly turn to antidepressant, anti-anxiety and other psychoactive drugs for mood issues,the fact is no one was born with a Prozac deficiency. There are many possible causes for these symptoms, but the relationship between food and mood is often ignored and may not be obvious since the offending food may not affect you hours or days after ingesting. So how do you know if foods are affecting your mood or behavior? Here are some clues.
If you feel moody or fatigued the same time each day, crave sweets, use alcohol daily, have trouble maintaining your ideal weight or wake up tired and grouchy, then you may be experiencing low blood sugar, hypoglycemia. Once treated as an imaginary diagnosis, it is now recognized as a source of mood and behavior change. Our brains and body systems require a steady level of blood sugar to function normally.
Diet can trigger hypoglycemic events, but some simple strategies can help you get back to normal. Start by planning three meals per day to provide a steady source of blood sugar. Include long-acting lean protein like fish and fowl, medium-acting good fats such as fish and vegetable oils and shorter-acting complex carbohydrates, for example, whole grain cereals, bread, starchy vegetables and legumes. The second step is to avoid or minimize simple carbohydrates like sweets and alcohol, because they create a rapid increase in blood sugar that can rebound to low blood sugar.
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Food allergies and food sensitivities — they are different — can affect mood and behavior. If allergy tests fail to identify the offender, there are other ways to find the answer, including food-challenge and elimination diets. Once identified, the problem food can be removed and often reintroduced later without incident.
Stimulants and suppressants in your diet can also be a problem. Ironically the remedies you rely on to address fatigue, anxiety, stress and depression, such as caffeine from coffee, tea, soda pop or chocolate, ginger, alcohol (a stimulant and depressant) may be making things worse. The double mocha that brightens your morning may be the reason your afternoon, evening or even the next day are darker, unless, of course, you take another jolt.
Many food additives and residues also affect mood and behavior. Certified organic produce and free-range, organically-fed animal products will limit these exposures. Read labels and don’t let industry and government agencies exclude this information from labels.
The food-mood connection is real and can have a dramatic impact on your quality of life. If you suspect food issues and these simple strategies don’t provide a solution, there are other reasonable avenues to pursue with your doctor. Good references include the book “Sugar Blues” by William Duffy and free classes at nwnaturalhealth.com/classes.html.
Dan Labriola, N.D.: DrLabriola@nwnaturalhealth.com. Labriola is director of the Northwest Natural Health Specialty Care Clinic and medical director for naturopathic services, Swedish Medical Center’s Cancer Institute; the clinic website is nwnaturalhealth.com.