Eating and Emotions

Nutrition plays a central role in the health of both body and mind. It has been discovered that certain foods may in fact offset the damaging effects of stress and promote emotional well-being. Scientific research helps to explain this fascinating connection between food and mood.

The central nervous system (CNS) requires a wide range of essential nutrients, supplied on a regular basis, to function optimally. Vitamins and minerals are needed to produce important brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which allow nerve cells to communicate with each other. The brain, which regulates emotions, has been found to have a higher concentration of nutrients than any other organ in the body.

Ongoing deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals can lead to emotional symptoms. For example, deficiencies in various B-complex vitamins are associated with anxiety, fatigue, confusion, and depression. Recent clinical studies have found higher rates of folic acid depletion in patients presenting with depressed mood compared to the general population. Presumably, this is due to a link between folic acid levels and serotonin levels in the brain. A dose of as little as 200 micrograms of folic acid was shown to relieve depression – an amount easily obtained from a cup of cooked spinach or a glass of orange juice.

Similarly, individuals suffering from a lack of selenium appear to be more anxious, irritable, and depressed than their non-selenium-deficient counterparts. Correcting deficiencies by eating nuts, fish, seeds, and whole grain cereals seems to help stabilize moods. Still other studies have discovered symptoms of magnesium depletion to include irritability, overactivity, and insomnia.

According to the National Institutes of Health, Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids may reduce symptoms of depression by influencing production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Omega-3’s are found in oily, cold-water fish including salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring. Ground flaxseeds, which can be sprinkled on cereal, soup, or salad, or whole seeds, baked into challah, muffins, or pancakes, are sources as well.

Whereas nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and Essential Fatty Acids are necessary to maintain physical and mental health, antinutrients found in certain foods interfere with the utilization of essential nutrients, leading to their depletion. Two primary examples of antinutrients are caffeine and sugar. Coffee, chocolate, and cola drinks represent the most common sources of caffeine in the American diet. When caffeine is consumed, the CNS is stimulated and then depressed, due to release of the stress hormone adrenalin. Typical symptoms of excess caffeine consumption include agitation, restlessness, mood swings, and low energy level. Similarly, blood sugar fluctuations, resulting from excess sugar consumption, lead to mood swings, depression, and anxiety. To reduce the risk of developing these imbalances, it is advised to limit intake of foods high in sugar, such as candy, pastries, soft drinks, and sweetened juices.

Please note that this article is for educational purposes only. Its contents are not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any physical or psychological disorders. Before making dietary or lifestyle changes, it is advisable to consult a health professional.