In every aspect of life, your mood sets the tone. Waking up with no energy and a cloudy mind sets you on a bumpy path toward a rough day. When we start the day off on the wrong foot enough times, we begin to form bad habits in an attempt to limp through our waking hours. Your choices become “what’s the cheapest”?, or “what can I get right now” rather than having a healthy meal prepared and waiting. Too much coffee, not enough water. High amounts of gluten and starch, not enough fruits and veg. You know the struggle...
After paying off this urge for immediacy and convenience, you may notice that you feel lethargic, quick to temper, or unmotivated as a result of stumbling into a cycle of eating unhealthy, fast, cheap food that kills your mood.
The science of food and mood - Your body talks
The gastrointestinal tract, which has been referred to as the “second brain” is constantly informing your system of what is going on in the body! The way it does this is by delivering serotonin and dopamine to your brain through the bloodstream.
Dopamine, the “feel good hormone” rewards you for doing what you need to do to thrive. Essentially, when dopamine levels are balanced well, it reassures your brain to keep doing what it’s doing. When you do, you’re happy, motivated, alert, and focused.
On the other hand, it should be pointed out that many things both “good” and “bad”, can release dopamine into your brain. Your favorite soccer team scoring a goal, a drag of cigarette, a well timed joke, and certainly the aforementioned culprit, fast/processed food.
Serotonin has similar attributes to Dopamine, though it specializes in a long lasting feeling of wellness. Additionally, it plays a role in influencing learning, memory and sleep, to name a few. A lack of serotonin has been linked to depression and anxiety.
These notorious neurotransmitters are vital hormonal messengers. The amount that reaches your brain is key to strong mental health.
Let’s get the juices flowing
An important bit of information here is that an estimated 90% of the serotonin produced in your body originates in your gut.
Production of good bacteria during digestion is interrupted by sugar and other common ingredients in processed food. This can cause inflammation, a key culprit in production of bad gut bacteria. Though sugar can send some dopamine to your brain, it is only a temporary spike that leads to a big crash once it has run its course.
Focus on these types of foods that promote good gut bacteria, and balanced dopamine/serotonin.
- Whole foods - Studies have shown that preservatives, food colorings and other additives may cause or worsen hyperactivity and depression. Consider fresh fruit and vegetables that vary in color.
- Fiber - this helps your gut absorb glucose in a steadier, slower way, to avoid surges and crashes. Fruits and vegetables again! Along with beans and whole grains.
- Anti Oxidants - this combats inflammation. Berries, leafy greens, and Omega 3 fatty acids from Salmon, eggs, nuts, and seeds.
- Vitamin D - Helps with serotonin production. Apart from sunlight, mushrooms will help with this, and certainly, over-the-counter vitamin D tablets or drops.
- Fermented Foods - This one is sort of a dark horse, because taste can vary greatly. But due to their incredible levels of probiotics, kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut and other fermented foods are great, but do be aware of high sodium levels!
Acknowledge the struggle - Time is money and money is time
You’ve likely heard the phrase “cash is king”. Indeed it is very difficult to deny that cash reigns supreme over our priorities in this modern world. So much so that perhaps it clouds our judgment about what we eat. Fast food seems like an inexpensive option, but don’t be fooled. Nothing beats preparing your meals for the week, especially when purchasing fruits and vegetables from produce stores or farmer’s markets. In fact, some estimates say that preparing your own healthy meals is 50% less expensive than eating out.
Being prepared for the week provides a solid foundation and reliable source of nourishment, and can be fairly assumed to lower your anxiety about what you’re going to do for lunch!
Sitting right next to the false King of Cash, atop the golden throne of accessibility, is a faithful partner. She’s attractive, she’s innovative, and like any great partner, she amplifies her mate’s qualities.
All hail - Queen Convenience.
Today, we get what we want, when we want it. Anything less than lightning fast internet enrages us. We expect goods and services to be on our doorstep the very next day. In an on demand world, there is a great benefit to quick turnarounds.
But not so with food. The convenience of fast food is a negative influencer to our health and wellness. The presence of this “quick and dirty” option seems to plague every busy street corner or shopping mall as far as the eye can see.
When making decisions based on convenience, we need to remember what we learned above, that processed food means a bad gut and low levels of those vital juices.