Are you in a bad mood? Feeling sluggish? Having trouble focusing? Your diet could be at fault. Dr. Connie Guttersen, R.D., Ph.D., and New York Times bestselling author of The Sonoma Diet, shared her insights with SheKnows.com to help us better understand how to eat for optimum energy and mood. She recently updated her bestseller with new health information, further tips for making healthy eating enjoyable, more recipes (including more gluten-free options) and additional discoveries about the importance of low glycemic meals when it comes to boosting energy levels.
The food and mood connection
Different foods and their particular nutrients can have an effect on how our brain processes signals related to mood, hunger, sleep and stress, Dr. Guttersen explains. What we eat (or don’t eat) can make a huge difference when it comes to how we feel, both short term and over time. For example:
- Depression is linked to a lack of B vitamins, such as B6, folic acid, and B12.
- Depleted amounts of magnesium, calcium, zinc, and selenium can contribute to mood disorders.
- We need B vitamins to effectively convert calories into energy for the cells.
- Carbohydrates, especially whole grains rich in B vitamins, promote the production of feel-good hormones such as serotonin.
- Calcium helps to counteract lactic acids produced by tense muscles, which often feels like an aching, tired sensation in the body.
Hydrate to feel great
A whopping 75 percent of the human body is made up of water, which means in order to maintain both energy and mood you need to stay hydrated. “Even if you are not feeling thirsty, drink up,” Dr. Guttersen says. Feeling tired and lethargic can be a sign of dehydration, but if you start drinking more water consistently you’ll become better attuned to the needs of your body and not let yourself get to the point of wanting to nap just because you’ve skimped on drinking water. Keep a reusable water bottle with you all the time, and within reach so you can be constantly sipping. Water not only keeps you hydrated, it transports food and oxygen to different cells, controls blood pressure and electrolyte levels, helps the kidneys flush out toxic substances and helps regulate our body temperature. We’ll drink to that!
Balance your blood sugar with low-glycemic foods
Keeping blood sugar levels in a healthy range is very important for maintaining consistent energy levels and preventing mood swings, says Dr. Guttersen. The best way to do this is to consider the glycemic index (GI) when making food choices, then opting for low-GI foods, or those that won’t cause spikes and dips in your blood sugar level. Foods further down the GI (lower than 55) are metabolized more slowly, keeping your appetite on a more even keel. This means that low-glycemic foods are better at providing a slow energy release throughout the day, rather than giving you a short burst of energy, then leaving you feeling tired and sluggish (and cranky) soon after.
Stock up on mood- and energy-boosting nutrients
Dr. Guttersen shares her picks for mood and energy-boosting nutrients to stock up on:
- Omega 3-rich foods such as walnuts, salmon, flaxseeds and canola oil
- Foods rich in vitamin B, such as black-eyed peas, pineapple, oranges and lentils
- Whole grains, which contain magnesium (important for muscle relaxation)
- Lean proteins
- Colorful fruits such as blueberries, grapes, strawberries and citrus fruits
- Vibrant green vegetables like broccoli, spinach and kale.
- Yellow and orange vegetables for their abundance of antioxidants
- Extra-virgin olive oil
Don’t skip meals if you want to stay energized
Eating regularly is important because it keeps energy levels and performance steady throughout the day, Dr. Guttersen explains. “Skipping meals can make you feel tired and drained since you are not providing your body with a regular supply of energy or glucose,” she says. Skipping meals can also make it hard to stick to healthy eating goals when you do finally sit down for a meal because you’re too hungry to make something wholesome or you end up choosing a meal that’s deep-fried or full of bad fats and refined carbohydrates – the stuff you crave when you let yourself get too hungry. “Skipping meals is not a smart choice when it comes to losing weight and feeling great.”
Breakfast especially shouldn’t be skipped, Dr. Guttersen says. Breakfast eaters tend to experience better concentration and may even have better eating habits throughout the day, she explains. So do yourself a favor and start the day off right. You’ll have more energy, and set yourself up for a healthy day of eating. The better your diet, the better you’ll feel all day, every day.