Your first impulse when you’re feeling hungry and crunched for time may be to reach for a sweet snack or bag of chips. This food choice may have an impact on how you feel later.
Food and mood are related, not just in terms of how happy or guilty you may feel about the food choice, but also by how the components of food can alter your brain’s chemistry. What you put in your body may directly affect how you feel, and evidence suggests that, in addition to affecting your physical health, what you eat may also affect your mood and emotional health. You may be able to identify which foods in your diet give you a boost of energy and improve your mental clarity, but which ones leave you feeling lethargic and just plain crummy?
Here are 10 foods that put you in a bad mood and can take the pep out of your step.
Sugar Sweetened Beverages
When you’re feeling tired, it may be tempting to grab a cold pop or energy drink for a quick pick-me-up. You may get an instant energy surge, but unfortunately it’s followed by a blood sugar and mood nosedive. If you love your pop or energy drink, stick with low-sugar or non-caloric options.
Regular soda and drinks provide unnecessary calories and sugar that are absorbed very rapidly and are easy to consume in large quantities, especially if you are really thirsty. Caffeine in a cola or energy drink is a stimulant that affects brain activity. Alertness and focus are the positives. Caffeine, however, can also trigger physiological responses, including increased heart rate and blood pressure and reduced blood flow to the digestive system. Caffeine is also somewhat addictive, so you may suffer headaches and mild withdrawal symptoms if you can’t get your fix. Next time you are parched and need some serious hydration, start with some nice ice-cold water and then treat yourself to a reasonable serving of a beverage you enjoy.
Hot Dogs and Processed Meat
You may try to save a few dollars by packing a brown-bag lunch every day or grabbing a hot dog from the cart on the street, but if you’re looking for the “power-lunch” protein punch, you might be doing yourself, and your mood, a great disservice. Inexpensive processed meats and hot dogs may contain high levels of nitrates, food colorings, preservatives, and additives. Lunch meats can be heavily processed and made from cheaper cuts that are higher in omega-6 fatty acids relative to brain-healthy omega-3s. Plus, artificial colors used in food processing are derived from petrochemicals, which some activists have suggested may be linked to mood disorders.
Your best bet is to think outside the lunch box and, when you can, choose meat products derived from intact cuts of meat, like turkey breast and chicken breast salads. Other good high-quality protein options include egg salad sandwiches, tuna fish, and grilled cheese. Hummus with veggies, green salad, or a banana and peanut butter can provide a healthy lunch option, but you may want to boost the protein with a glass of milk or an amino acid supplement.
The nutrition experts have led us on somewhat of a merry chase, scaring us off butter to promote what was believed to be heart-healthy substitutes like margarine. Now, we have come full circle to recognizing that trans fatty acids (a chemical structure that results from the hydrogenation of oils) are more hazardous to cardiovascular health than are saturated fats. However, further exploration of all the lipids in milk fat have revealed a number of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and other unique fats.
Margarine is packed with trans fats that can knock off your balance of omega-3s. Research has suggested that low levels of omega-3 beneficial fatty acid can be associated with depression, aggression, and mood disorders. Another study revealed that people who eat the most trans fats are about 50% more likely to be depressed. Findings like these should be interpreted with caution. They do not tell us that trans fats cause depression, they only reveal an association between trans fats and depression. It may be that people who are depressed are less likely to care about nutrition advice such as “avoid trans fatty acids.” Regardless, most of us would agree that butter tastes better than margarine. Grass-fed butter provides a nice option since it is rich in vitamin K2 and omega-3 fatty acids.
Who doesn’t love a bagel with cream cheese in the morning? Well, it may not be a whole lot healthier the donuts you’ve shunned in their favor. Much like a donut, this common breakfast staple is often made of nutrient-deficient refined wheat flour with the germ and bran removed.
Eating a carb-heavy morning meal may shift brain balance to induce a secretion of serotonin. Serotonin helps us feel calm and relaxed, which is a wonderful effect unless you are struggling to stay awake at your computer desk.
White flours and sugar also have a high glycemic index, which means they raise blood sugar levels fairly quickly. This spike may cause a dip in blood sugar due to the insulin released to process the elevated blood glucose. This reaction may overshoot the mark and cause you to feel sluggish. To regulate your mood and head out the door without the crankiness, try whole wheat options, yogurt, or scrambled eggs.
Cakes and Cookies
You’ve probably witnessed the stampede when it’s announced that cookies or cupcakes are in the breakroom. Almost all of us love a sweet treat, but these goodies, especially commercially produced ones, are packed with empty calories. Indulging once in a while is certainly not harmful. In fact, our brain reacts to sweet and sugary foods with a release of a brain chemical that signals pleasure and reward. Filling up on baked goods regularly, however, or using them to get a mood boost can edge out nutrient-dense foods in your diet and lead to chronic health issues.
Oh the golden, salty goodness. While delicious, we all know that deep-fried foods carry a lot of calories. And if you are someone who has to keep an eye on how much sodium you consume, salted french fries can take up a huge chunk of your daily allotment. Processed and deep-fried foods take a long time to digest and weigh down your body, which may cause your brain to feel weighed down too. There are times, however, when a meal just might not feel complete with a side salad instead of fries. Some restaurants offer sweet potato fries or fried green beans or zucchini sticks. These options offer a few more nutrients than standard fries. Another strategy is to get one order of fries for the table to share.
Canned goods occupy an important place in the pantry and, if they had no nutritional value, then all the “canned goods food drives” are a disservice rather than a charitable act. The problem, as with almost all “nutrition problems,” is in the overdoing of it. Eating a diet heavily represented by canned goods brings a lot of sodium to the table. If you are sensitive to sodium, blood pressure increases and bloating can emerge as issues and low-sodium canned goods should be sought out.
There is good evidence that blood pressure can be managed successfully with a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and dairy foods. The Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was shown in a large scale study to be more effective at managing all sorts of health outcomes than exclusionary diets that delete certain foods or food components such as saturated fat or sodium. In fact, people following the DASH diet were less likely to develop depression.
Activist websites warn about BPA in cans that can lead you to ingest a chemical additive linked to a number of chronic mood disorders like depression and anxiety. There is significant debate whether or not these trace amounts actually pose an issue. There are a lot of reasons to opt for fresh fruits and vegetables when possible. Fewer processed foods in general provide more of the essential vitamins and nutrients that help to regulate your physical and emotional health.
Imitation Dairy and Meat Products
If you swapped out the “half and half” for the non-dairy creamer, you have traded some saturated fat for soybean oil. Soybean oil, as well as safflower oil and corn oil, are rich in omega-6 fatty acids. In a balanced diet, these oils are harmless enough, but our attraction to processed, prepared foods and sauces can throw the ratio of omega-6:omega-3 fatty acids out of whack. Soybean oil is the most widely used edible oil. Meat analogues are often made from soya chunks derived from soy protein isolate, soybean oil, and water.
Research shows an increase in the amount of omega-6 fatty acids in the average American diet while omega-3 fatty acids from seafood, nuts, and certain grains has decreased. These trends appear to correlate with increases in depressive mood disorders in our society, and there are changes in cell membranes and brain function that might explain part of this relationship.
Funky Flavored Potato Chips
Many of us may grab a bag of chips when we’re craving a salty, tasty snack but if you overindulge, you may end up feeling even worse than when you started. Chips lack little nutritive value and typically derive more than half of their calories from fat. Fried in omega-6-rich oil, chips can actually block healthy omega-3s, which can promote a positive mood. As a result, you’re left feeling unmotivated and lethargic.
The new gastronomical range of flavors like Thai chili lime or southern biscuits and gravy share one thing in common. They often rely on the flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG). Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter and there are some studies that indicate an adverse response in mood and behavior in individuals with a sensitivity to MSG. Apple slices aren’t a perfect substitute, but they crunch if you want to consider a more nutrient-dense alternative.
Everyone knows that alcohol has a profound effect on how we feel because alcohol enters the brain and directly alters the function of brain cells. In general, alcohol makes people feel happier and relaxes them. Alcohol is a depressant, but its initial action is to slow down inhibitory centers so we feel more animated and energetic. Heavier alcohol use or chronic use reveals the true characteristic of alcohol, which represses brain function and can make someone tired or even mean and irritable. Once again, the message is moderation.
The truth of the matter is that there are many mood influencers, which makes it difficult from a research perspective to pinpoint specific mood-altering factors. Our moods are most dramatically impacted by our immediate environment and events that occur in our lives. If your car breaks down on the way to work, you’re likely to be in a bad mood even if you had a kale smoothie for breakfast. Even so, your overall diet can affect your health and energy level, which certainly impacts mood. And there are food components, such as certain essential aminos that alter neurotransmitter levels in your brain, thus affecting your mood, level of focus, and emotional status. A diet containing natural mood enhancers found in nutrient-dense foods can significantly improve how you feel and help enhance your overall quality of life.