Proper diet can boost your mood and energy levels
If you feel like you’re at the mercy of your moods and your energy levels are flagging, take heart. Research says a change in diet may help boost your moods and give your energy levels a jump-start.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Clinical Research Center professor, Judith Wurtman, explored how particular foods affect our moods when the levels of certain neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, are influenced.
According to Wurtman’s research, people tend to be more alert when their brains produce the chemical messengers, dopamine and norepinephrine, while the production of serotonin tends to have a calming, relaxing effect.
Protein-rich foods raise the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine and produce feelings of alertness and faster reaction times, while at the same time blocking serotonin production. Sources of protein include beans, cheese, eggs, fish, meat and milk.
Foods that help with serotonin production and give the feeling of relaxation are high in carbs. Sources include grains, fruits and sugars.
What does this mean for your diet?
Michelle Bishop, clinical program coordinator for Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center in Downers Grove, Ill., says the best way to boost your energy is to seek out foods that supply your body with calories it can use to burn more efficiently. To boost your mood, eat foods that keep your blood sugar in check and trigger those feel-good brain chemicals, she says.
Bishop offers these five suggestions to help get you started:
Do not skip breakfast. It’s a great start to the day, offering added energy, and it improves your chances of having a better mood throughout the day.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, in my opinion, because that gets your body running,” Bishop said. “Without breakfast, you’ll be sluggish throughout the day because you’re skipping a meal.
Skipping breakfast, or any other meal, for that matter is not a good idea, says Bishop. Breakfast helps boost the metabolism, and when you begin skipping meals, your metabolism can be affected as well. Your metabolism helps break down your food into smaller pieces. If you don’t give your metabolism something to do, it slows down and gets stored as fat in the body.
The most beneficial breakfasts include fiber, healthy fats and a lean protein.
Not all carbs are bad. The trick is to avoid the ones that cause your blood sugar levels to peak then plummet. Consider whole grains including brown rice, whole-wheat bread and cereal.
Complex carbs found in whole grains take longer to break down in the body so it helps your energy.It’s a balance in your calorie consumption as well and allows you to stay fuller longer.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends eating 5 to 8 ounces of whole grains per day. This can include things like pasta, brown rice and oats, Bishop says.
The most effective forms of protein to help with alertness and mood are sources that contain the amino acid tyrosine, a building block for brain chemicals including adrenaline, norepinephrine and dopamine.
Sources for this type of protein are lean cuts of meat such as skinless chicken and turkey, fish, lean beef and eggs. Bishop says these foods are also rich in B vitamins, such as B-12, which helps fight depression.
Omega-3 fatty acids
The benefits of omega-3s are largely in the area of mood elevation. Studies have shown that eating omega-3s helps with depression, among other health benefits. Excellent sources of omega-3s include fish such as salmon, nuts such as walnuts and dark-green, leafy veggies. Leafy veggies also deliver folate, a nutrient that may help fight depression.
Bishop recommends selecting veggies that have fewer calories and more protein, such as broccoli, spinach, and asparagus. “Mostly the ones people don’t like,” she says.
Fresh fruits and vegetables also give an added boost to energy levels, and since most are made up of water, this helps keep the body hydrated, which also helps maintain energy levels.
Adding fruit to your diet is a great pick-me-up because it’s high in potassium, fiber and vitamin C, she says.
She recommends fruits such as strawberries, melons, or even a banana because it gets in the system quickly and boosts energy.
Bishop says a great diet includes a balanced plate, which gives you plenty of energy to refuel your body, and refueling your body throughout the day.
“These things make the plate pretty balanced: grains, vitamins, proteins, and if you’re packing lunch,” says Bishop. “Pack it with whole grains, carbs, a higher protein, such as yogurt, and a sweet with fat such as a Power Bar, which has chocolate to satisfy your sweet tooth.”
She adds that getting the appropriate amount of food helps the brains as far as release of serotonin. “A food boost helps you keep focus and also prevents increased fatigue and challenges the body so you have the fuel you need to manage from day to day,” says Bishop.
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