We all know that certain foods make us feel good. I know that creamy mashed potatoes work every time for me. But is this scientific or just a pleasant association I have from days past?
The relationship between food and mood is harder to study scientifically since there are so many things that affect our moods and so many different things in food that also affect us. But, the area of food and mood is undergoing lots of study and there are interesting facts being unearthed.
One of the keys in this puzzle may be the neurotransmitter serotonin. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that convey signals from one brain cell to another and serotonin is the one most tied into mood. When levels of serotonin are higher, you can feel calmer, quieter or more relaxed.
Carbohydrates, such as pasta, bread or potatoes, help raise levels of serotonin. This may partly explain why I feel so much better after mashed potatoes. This also may explain why a nighttime slice of toast or bowl of cereal can help you fall asleep more easily. To get the best effect, it's suggested that you eat the carbohydrates alone rather than in combination with other foods.
Protein foods -- meat, fish, chicken, cheese, eggs -- affect other substances in the brain. Eating these foods can make you feel more alert. So, eating a protein-rich snack may help get you through a late-afternoon meeting.
Studies have looked at the role vitamins and minerals play in hormonal fluctuations during PMS or menopause. Vitamin B6, found in meat, fish, poultry, whole grains, potatoes, spinach and some fruits and vegetables, may help the mood swings of PMS. A caution regarding B6: If you take supplements, be careful not to exceed the upper limit for adults of 100 mg per day. Excess has been associated with nerve damage.
Other studies suggest that calcium may reduce symptoms of PMS. Best sources of calcium are milk, yogurt, cheese, other dairy products, canned salmon with the bones or fortified soy beverages.
Caffeine and alcohol are both stimulants and can definitely affect your mood both during consumption and after. Small amounts of caffeine, for example, can give you energy or make you feel alert, but too much can make you anxious and affect sleep. Alcohol can affect sleep patterns and heighten feelings of depression.
Besides the actual foods, when and how much you eat can also affect your mood. Eating small amounts of food frequently throughout the day can keep your energy levels and mood more constant. Skipping meals can have a negative affect on your mood and energy, and eating large meals can make you feel sleepy or less energetic.
Some researchers feel that there is more that affects the food/mood connection than just chemistry. The learned associations and familiar feeling you have when eating certain foods can also be strong determinants of your mood.
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