When I saw the title, "Eat Your Way To Happiness", I just KNEW that I needed to read a copy.
Here on Snack Girl, we talk a lot about healthy choices. I thought it would be interesting to hear from an expert about how those choices effect our MOOD (not just our waistlines).
Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D. was gracious enough to give me an interview about her book.
Snack Girl: I usually eat my way to unhappiness, how can your book teach me to eat my way TO happiness.
I’ve been studying the link between what we eat and how we feel ever since the early 1990s when I published my first book on this topic, Food & Mood. Since then, people have been sharing their stories of how that book changed their lives.
Most people recognize the link between what they eat and their physical health. Fail to get enough calcium and the resultant bone loss may lead to osteoporosis. Or, a high saturated fat diet is likely to raise the risk for heart disease. But it takes years, even decades of that diet abuse to produce those problems, while the link between what you eat and your mood and memory is much more immediate.
Literally what you eat or don’t eat for breakfast can have an effect on your happiness quotient by afternoon. The effects also are cumulative: eat the right foods for months, years, decades and you will be that much happier and mentally sharp in the years to come. In short, follow the tips below that come from latest book, Eat Your Way to Happiness, and I promise you will say, "I never knew I could feel this good!
Snack Girl: Why would our mood be so connected to what we eat?
Most people at one time or another have turned to food for solace or a quick-pick-me-up. Return home from work and snack from the refrigerator as a way to relax and unwind. After a long day, a dish of ice cream may be just the comfort food you turn to.
In the past, however, scientists believe that the brain was cushioned from these food choices by what is called the "blood brain barrier," which shielded the brain from fluctuations in the blood and rest of the body caused by food, drugs, or other substances.
But the blood brain barrier is much more permeable than previously thought and what we eat does affect brain chemistry, right down to the basic nerve cell called the neuron and its transmitting chemicals called neurotransmitters (NT).
In fact, many substances in food are the building blocks for these neurotransmitters that relay messages from one nerve cell to another and are the very foundation of how we think, act, feel, and behave. Approximately 40 NT have been identified that alter appetite and affect mood.
The link goes further than just one meal. Food and mood are a spiral that can go up or down. Which ever comes first, eating poorly or feeling blue sets off the spiral.
Once a person feels bad, it is likely he/she will turn to quick fixes, such as sugary foods or caffeine, to get a temporary energy boost.
In the long run, however, these foods only aggravate the fatigue or depression and cause the person to return to all the wrong foods that perpetuate the depression and fatigue.
Or, a person may skip meals when trying to cut calories and loose weight only to find that the pendulum swings from abstinence to binge later on.
In contrast, choosing the right foods at the right time of day can avoid the fatigue or bad mood in the first place or can break the downward spiral by helping you feel better, which in turn gives you the motivation to eat better and soon you are out of the slump.
These chemicals also fluctuate in monthly cycles, often in response to changes in other chemicals such as hormones. So as estrogen levels are changing during the two weeks prior to the onset of menstruation, NPY, galanin, and another NT called serotonin levels also are rising and falling. This increases a woman's chances of craving sweet and creamy foods.
Neurotransmitters also fluctuate from season to season. For example, the NT serotonin, which regulates mood, carb cravings, pain, and sleep, drops in some people during the winter months and may be the reason why people who suffer mild depression, increased food cravings, and weight gain during the winter months turn to sweets and starches. These foods raise serotonin levels, improve mood, produce a calming effect, and curb the cravings.
Most importantly, these NT work together. For example, cravings for sweet-and-creamy items, such as ice cream, chocolate, cookies, pies, cakes, etc, are likely fueled by both galanin, serotonin, and another morphine-like chemical in the brain called the endorphins that make the eating experience a pleasurable and possibly addictive one. They also ebb and flow depending on your stress level, dietary habits, and food intake.
Thus your appetite, hunger, and cravings are essentially the result of riding internal chemical swells, much like a surfer skims precariously along on a massive wave.
Snack Girl: What do you suggest the is the best way to "snack for happiness"?
The first step is to follow what I call in the book, the 75% solution. Which means that three out of every four bites or 75% of your diet should be real foods.
The more a food is processed, the lower its mood-boosting vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients and the higher its calories, fat, sugar, and/or salt. Real foods are alive with nutrients that our bodies require to run like well-oiled machines.
Processed foods, in contrast, are as alien to our bodies as breathing in carbon monoxide. Thousands of studies spanning decades of research repeatedly report that the more real foods people eat, the lower their disease risk and the happier and skinnier they are. How do you do this?
A) Choose foods in as close to their original form as possible. Choose the broccoli, not the frozen broccoli in cheese sauce; the old fashioned oatmeal not the granola bar; the 100% whole grain cereal not the sugar-coated cereal with a dusting of whole grain; the fresh or frozen blueberries not the blueberry-flavored yogurt.
B) When purchasing a food that comes in a bag, box, pouch, or carton, choose only those items with 1 gram or less of a combined trans and saturated fat/100 calories. Avoid foods that have sugar in the first three ingredients on the label or that have multiple sugars throughout the ingredient list. (Hint: 4 grams = 1 teaspoon of sugar.) My book has a list of the top 100 packaged foods in your supermarket that are good for your mood.
Snack Girl: In your book, you talk a lot about junk food that leads to grumpiness. What, do you think, are the worst offenders?
I’d rather focus on the positive, rather than the negative. Eat Real foods, have a 1,2,3 Breakfast of whole grain, protein, and colorful produce, snack regularly throughout the day, have a lunch that is light and low-fat (turkey sandwich on whole grain, spinach salad with light dressing, and a glass of DHA-fortified soymilk), and a light dinner (salmon, baked sweet potato, and a green veggie).
Then have a light, all-carb snack an hour before bedtime, such as 2 cups of air-popped popcorn to raise brain levels of serotonin, which helps you sleep soundly. Drink enough water so your urine is pale yellow. Take a multi, plus extra omega-3 DHA. Focus on what you can eat, not what you can’t. Then, of course, exercise every day.
Snack Girl: What is your favorite snack?
Peanut butter and a banana. I have it almost every day.
Thanks, Elizabeth! If you ever get bored with peanut butter and banana - check out my Banana Quesadilla.
Have you noticed a connection between food and mood?