“You are what you eat” applies to both your physical and emotional health.
Do you wake up feeling sluggish? Feel irritable when the clock hits 2 pm? You might want to take a second look at what you’re putting on your plate.
While most Canadians are aware that a balanced diet plays an important role in promoting good physical health, they may not fully understand that food has an impact on psychological well-being.
“The foods we eat can impact our energy levels and our mood and, in turn, this influences how we feel and our overall emotional well-being.”
“The foods we eat can impact our energy levels and our mood and, in turn, this influences how we feel and our overall emotional well-being,” says Kristy Hogger, a registered dietitian in Aurora, Ont. “A balanced, nutrient-rich diet can positively influence physical and mental health.”
Paying attention to what’s on our plate is especially pertinent as we get older. As Hogger points out, it’s typical to see a reduction in appetite as we age which may translate into an overall decrease in nutrient intake. “It is important for older adults to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods to keep their bodies and brains healthy and to help reduce the risk of chronic disease,” she says.
Imagine your body as a car: If not fuelled properly, every aspect of its performance is impacted. A steady supply of good-quality fuel derived from food is needed to provide adequate energy and to regulate mood.
“Eating sugary foods can promote spikes in energy and then cause a crash where somebody feels tired and fatigued,” says Dr. Nicole Didyk, a geriatrician/internist based in Kitchener-Waterloo who also teaches at McMaster University’s department of medicine in Hamilton, Ont. “Having too much caffeine can make people irritable and then have withdrawal symptoms. There’s also ‘hanxious’ where you’re feeling hungry and anxious.”
Combating crashes and mood swings starts with eating well, but what exactly is good nutrition?
“According to Canada’s Food Guide, healthy eating is based on a foundation of vegetables and fruit, whole grains, protein foods and water for hydration,” says Hogger. “Healthy eating means consuming a variety of foods that provide the nutrients we need for energy, to maintain health and a healthy body weight, and to feel good physically and mentally.”
Feeding your brain is fundamental to your mood, agrees Didyk. Your brain is like the boss of the body, managing everything from your breathing and heartbeat to thoughts and emotions. What you put in your mouth is critical to the brain’s health and function, and ultimately influences your state of mind.1
“The diets that we know that help with brain health are ones that are lower in red meat and have more fish, poultry and other healthy protein sources like beans and nuts,” she says.
Ensuring adequate protein intake is especially important with age. It helps to reduce muscle loss and to maintain overall wellness. To determine your individual need for protein, use the Boost protein calculator to find out the suggested amount based on your age, gender, height, weight and level of activity.
For boosting brain health, Didyk recommends the MIND Diet – a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (designed to control high blood pressure). It encourages restricting intake of butter and margarine, red meat, fried food and sweets while eating more leafy green vegetables, nuts, olive oil, berries, whole grains, fatty fish, beans, lentils, soybeans, poultry and no more than one glass of red wine a day.2
Evidence shows this eating regime has a payoff. Older people who follow the MIND diet tend to have a lower incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A study3 in Australia found that even the people who weren’t sticking to the [MIND] diet super strictly had about a 35 percent lower risk of getting cognitive impairment.
The MIND diet is promising, but Hogger cautions that there’s no magic solution or one-size-fits-all diet, because ultimately “nutrition can be individual.”
“Different people react differently to foods and eating patterns,” she explains. “A ‘food-mood’ diary can be a beneficial tool for individuals who want to better understand how their food choices and dietary patterns affect their physical and mental health.”
It’s all-important to note that we need to pay attention not just to what we eat, but also to eating habits. Is your plate piled sky-high? Eating large quantities of food at one time can make us feel sluggish, heavy, and less alert and Hogger says it’s best to keep portion sizes reasonable. On the opposite spectrum, crash diets or skipping meals can also have negative consequences on your overall health.
“Overly restricting calories or skipping meals can cause blood sugar drops resulting in fatigue, headaches, food cravings and irritability,” says Hogger. “Some people may benefit from two or three small snacks throughout the day, in between meals, to maintain energy levels.”
What about when you’re on the go and don’t have access to the fridge or pantry? Your best strategy is to keep a packet of nuts or a supplement handy when hunger hits. Didyk suggests easily portable nutritional drinks, like Boost Original Meal Replacement Drink. It has 10 grams of high-quality protein, plus 26 vitamins and minerals in each 237-mL bottle.“That can be a great way to keep your energy levels up,” she notes.
Ultimately, the ‘you are what you eat’ principle applies to your body, mind and spirit, and having a balanced, nutritious diet is the key to living your best life. If the task of eating well seems daunting, just remember that it’s not about perfection.
“Try to do your best 80 percent of the time,” says Didyk. “That way, you’ll be more likely compassionate to yourself and stick with those good habits. Nourish your body and spirit.”
Top 5 good-mood foods to add to your diet
• Dark chocolate Some studies suggest that it can be good for you and may have a positive effect on mood.4 Just be mindful of serving sizes and the type of chocolate. Go for high-quality dark chocolate that’s at least 70 percent cocoa.
• Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids In addition to providing benefits for heart health, fish rich in omega-3, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, can have a positive effect on mood and may help to improve depression, research indicates.5
• Low-glycemic carbohydrates They include high-fibre fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, beans, chickpeas and whole grains. Carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index help keep blood sugars steady by slowly releasing glucose into the bloodstream. This helps to prevent sudden drops in energy, fatigue and mood swings.6
• Nuts Almonds and walnuts are great as a snack or as additions to a meal since they contain protein and healthy fat, which help to keep blood sugar levels steady when combined with carbohydrates. “Some research7 suggests that people have higher levels of serotonin – a brain chemical that helps regulate mood by helping to keep us relaxed and happy – after consuming nuts,” says Hogger.
• Fruits and vegetables “Research8 indicates that consistently eating more fruits and vegetables – at least seven to eight servings per day – can help us feel happier and more energetic in daily life,” she notes.
Presented by BOOST®/Nestlé Health Science.
- Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food, published by Harvard Health Blog, November 16, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626 [Accessed October 16, 2019.]
- A personalized approach to preventing Alzheimer’s disease, published by Harvard Men’s Health Watch, June 2018. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/a-personalized-approach-to-preventing-alzheimers-disease [Accessed October 16, 2019.]
- MIND diet repeatedly ranked among best, published by Rush University Medical Center, January 4, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.rush.edu/news/mind-diet-ranked-among-best [Accessed November 13, 2019.]
- Food and mood, published by the American Heart Association, June 25, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/mental-health-and-wellbeing/food-and-mood [Accessed October 16, 2019.]
- The effect of low-dose omega 3 fatty acids on the treatment of mild to moderate depression in the elderly, published by European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, December 2011.Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21318452 [Accessed October 16, 2019.]
- Keep your weight down and energy up with the glycemic index, published by Harvard Women’s Health Watch, November 2014. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/keep-your-weight-down-and-your-energy-up-with-the-glycemic-index [Accessed October 30, 2019.]
- Metabolomics unveils urinary changes in subjects with metabolic syndrome following 12-week nut consumption, published by the Journal of Proteome Research, November 2011. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21905751 [Accessed October 16, 2019.]
- Is psychological well-being linked to the consumption of fruits and vegetables?, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, October 2012. Retrieved from https://www.nber.org/papers/w18469.pdf [Accessed October 16, 2019.]