Mood and Food

Are certain foods able to change your body’s chemistry enough to make you feel consistently calm, relaxed and even happy all day? The answer is a resounding yes!

Parents should know that managing their own or their child’s mood and conduct can be done not just through behavioral techniques, but also through a well-planned diet. Indeed, we can literally be what we eat!

How it Works
Mood and behavior have a biological basis; they’re usually attributed to the adequate presence of particular chemicals in the brain. Three neurotransmitters are believed to be critical to emotional well-being: dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.

The exact mechanism of these 3 brain chemicals is still unknown, but having low levels of each has been associated with various psychological issues. These issues include increased susceptibility to stress, anxiety, depression, aggression, hyperactivity and attention-deficit problems.

Although we don’t yet completely understand the mechanism of the chemical-mood connection, the currently accepted medical thinking is that neurotransmitters help regulate a person’s emotions. Therefore, it is not surprising that taking neurotransmitters in pill form (in antidepressant medication, for example), can improve mood and reduce anxiety. Pills can’t keep a person from being sad or disappointed, angry or upset – but they can stop people’s emotions from going to abnormal highs and lows. They are can also provide pain and tension-relief as the body no longer has to carry and adapt to the effects of chronic negative emotions. Serotonin, in particular, is critical to the body’s ability to self-heal.

More recent research highlights the help of dopamine and norepinephrine in increasing one’s alertness. They can help one feel energized as well as attentive and focused. Increased ability to perform causes an increase in self-esteem that leads to an increase in positive mood. All of this protects against stress and stress-related conditions. Children, as well as adults, can get on the cycle of increasing wellness by attending to their brain chemistry. Parents can help by giving their youngsters a daily dose of healthy brain chemicals in the form ofnutritional supplements and foods.

What to Eat
The following are just some of the foods known to help manage mood and behavior:

  • Foods rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Fatty acids are the building blocks of protein. They are also the building blocks of many of our body’s hormones, the three mentioned neurotransmitters included. Taking adequate amounts of food with Omega 3s in the diet, helps adults and children stock up on these natural mood regulators. Foods rich in Omega 3s include oily fishes such as tuna, salmon and mackerel, nuts like walnuts and flaxseeds.
  • Foods rich in Vitamin B12. In general, the B group of vitamins is important in regulating mood. In fact, many sufferers of mood disorders are advised to take vitamin B supplements to help manage the fluctuations in their feelings. Vitamin B12 and folate, in particular, are known for helping increase the amount of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Foods rich in folate and B12 include green, leafy vegetables, legumes, bananas and oranges.
  • Lots of water! While not related to neurotransmitters, water is an excellent mood regulator — for many reasons! In fact, drinking a glass of water is an acceptable form of stress management and anxiety relief. Water detoxifies the system, helping get rid of pollutants in the body that cause irritability and unease. Water also regulates blood sugar. High sugar content in the blood is a culprit for symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity.

Foods to Avoid
To increase feelings of calm and relaxation, one needs to limit one’s intake of central nervous system stimulants – like coffee, tea, cola and other caffeinated foods and beverages. While the occasional boost of a stimulant can help increase temporary alertness and productivity, over time stimulants can create stress for the nervous system. Sensitive people may suffer increased nervousness, hypervigilance,and/or palpitations, as well as digestive symptoms. In some people, caffeine can increase depressive symptoms.  However, it is important to note that children with ADHD (and some teens and adults with this condition as well), can actually benefit from a regular dose of caffeine! In this population, the stimulant results in greater calm and focus and increased positive mood – just the opposite of what many non-ADHD people report. So if your child does better with an occasional soda or piece of chocolate, give it to him! And if he does worse – you know what you need to do.

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