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The Secret Food to Mood Connection E-mail
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Emotional Eating is by Design

Turns out food fuels more than your body- it feeds your moodwomen_eating_chocolate too. What you eat can affect your mood and how well your brain works," says Jeff Behar, a well known personal trainer and nutrition expert based out of Los Angeles, California.

Minor tweaks in your diet can help you control your moods; at least temporarily, by influencing the level of certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, says Behar, author of over 1500 articles on anti aging, wellness, disease prevention, diet, nutrition, weight management, fitness, and bodybuilding.

Meal Size and Mood Response

Meal size can effect mood response. Large meals have shown to reduce mental alertness and performance is the size of a meal. This is especially true for meals containing large amounts of fat, since fat can slow down food absorption. When food absorption is slowed blood flow to the stomach is increased for a longer period of time, resulting in less blood flow to the brain. The result is a very calming effect on the body, resulting in drowsiness, sluggishness, and less ability to focus and concentrate.

Timing and Mood Response

The food-mood response is short term. Eating a steak at dinner may increase alertness and concentration for two to three hours after eating. Eating a large pasta meal however, produces the opposite effect' a calming response for two to three hours following the meal. Combing both in a single meal can actually counteract the individual effects of these foods.

Neurotransmitters Effects on the Body and Mind

People are more alert when their brains are producing the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. People are more relaxed and calm when producing the neurotransmitter serotonin. A stable brain serotonin level is associated with a positive mood state; while reduced serotonoin can result in a depressive state. Of important note is the effect of co-factors on neurotransmitters and resulting mood.

Cofactors that are involved in the synthesis of these neurochemical transmitters that can affect neurotransmission include Vitamin B6, zinc and magnesium. They are cofactors in the enzyme aromatic acid decarboxylase, which converts dihydroxy-phenylalanine to dopamine and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) to serotonin. Thus a deficiency in vitamin B6 can result in a decrease of a particular neurotransmitter.

Positive Moods and Stress Reduction

Another group of chemicals that can influence mood and appetite are the endorphins. These are the body's natural opiate-like chemicals that produce a positive mood state, decreased pain sensitivity, and reduced stress. Endorphins are released when a person is in pain, during starvation, and during exercise. A food substance related to endorphins is phenylethylamine, which is found in chocolate.

Serotonin Producing Foods.

Foods that increase the production of serotonin in the brain and have a calming effect on the body are foods that are high in carbohydrates (e.g., pasta, rice, candy, grains, fruits, etc.). These foods raise levels of serotonin, and temporarily will have a calming effect on the mind and body. Carbohydrates affect brain serotonin because they increase the amount of tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan is the amino-acid precursor of serotonin. It is this diet-neurotransmitter relationship that can help explain why many people may feel drowsy in the afternoon after eating a large carbohydrate meal. The subsequent rise in serotonin in the brain is what lead to drowsiness. The following foods increase serotonin levels which contribute to a calming, anti-anxiety mood:


Chocolate has always been a highly valued commodity in many cultures, and there is some evidence that chocolate may improve mood temporarily due to its high levels of sugar and fat, phenylethylamine, and caffeine. The sugar in chocolate is associated with a release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and the fat and phenylethylamine are associated with an endorphin release. Chocolate also contains anadamine, which targets the same receptors as THC, and also produces a cozy, euphoric feeling. The caffeine in chocolate adds a temporary stimulant effect, which makes chocolate the optimal "brain happiness food." It may also be why many choose chocolate when depressed as it improves their overall state of mind.


Oatmeal is carbohydrate dense. Oatmeal is a great energy food in that it is a low glycemic index, but for it to be an optimal energy food, the oatmeal should include a protein side dish which will reduce the serotonin increase from the carbohydrates (carbohydrate intake causes the body to send out an amino acid called trypotophan into the brain to trigger the manufacture of serototin, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel tranquil and calm. By eating carbohydrate foods that are rich in fiber-like oatmeal, your body will absorb them slowly, keeping serototin flowing steadily. Adding protein with such a meal will slow the serotonin release even slower.

Dopamine and Norepinephrine Producing Foods

Dopamine and norepinephrine are two other important brain chemicals that appear to be influenced by foods. Both dopamine and norepinephrine are part of the "fight or flight" chemicals that can increase alertness, increase reaction times, and increase concentration. Levels of dopamine and norepinephrine are increased by the consumption of protein-rich foods. The following foods increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels which contribute increasing alertness, focus and decreasing drowsiness:

    Chicken Chef Salad
Eating between 4 and 5 ounces of high quality lean protein, like chicken breast,  helps your brain create dopamine and norepinephrine, neurochemicals that keep you alert. Holding the ranch and opting for a balsemic vinegrette keps the fat to a minimum. Fat can slow down food absorption which reduces blood flow to the brain which can counteract the dopamine and norepinephrine effects. For variety consider a fresh bowel of greens topped with hard boiled egg  whites, sans the yoke, or chopped turkey breast or even tuna. 
    Sushi (sashimi)

Eating a high protein meal, like sushi also helps your brain create dopamine and norepinephrine, neurochemicals that keep you alert. Holding the rice also minimizes serotonin production. More positive benefits: A study in Finland found that people who eat more fish are 31 percent less likely to suffer from depression. Increasing your consumption of fish high in essential fatty acids has also shown to decrease the risk to heart disease and increase longevity.

Other Mood Effecting Foods

Considering their size, berries are pound for pound one of the best anti-aging and longevity promoting foods.  Low in fat and packed with nutrients, you can not go wrong. Here are just a few of the many proven health benefits of these delicious fruits:
  • Blueberries contain many vitamins, minerals and fiber that provide numerous health benefits. Increasing fiber in your diet reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, and also helps with controlling hunger too!
  • Darker berries ( like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and goji berries contain high levels of anti-oxidants which help destroy free radicals that consume cell oxygen, damage the cells and ultimately can wear away your memory. 
  • Berries also contain a giant portion of phytochemicals which can exert a positive effect on brain function. Nutritional antioxidants, such as the phytochemicals found in dark berries can reverse age-related declines in brain function, namely the cognitive and motor deficits associated with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
    Sesame Seeds.

Stress hormones can deplete your body's supply of magnesium, reducing your stress-coping abilities and increasing your risk of developing stress related diseases, such as high blood pressure. Solution: take a handful of sesame seeds, or just sprinkle them in a delicious salad.

Diet Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Day

Morning People

Morning people need their protein-rich foods during the afternoon and evening, particularly if they need to be focused later in the day for a meeting or some other work requiring attention to detail. Instead of a lunch of pasta, or an afternoon snack of doughnuts, candy or a red bull morning people would be more alert in the afternoon if their snacks focused on high protein foods, like chicken, a protein drink, or at a minimum, adding high quality protein to the lunch and dinner to increase their levels of dopamine and norepinephrine.

    Night Owls
"Night owls" may improve their alertness in the mornings if they start their day with a protein-rich breakfast, like a egg white omelet. Protein provides the brain with tyrosine, an amino acid that is a precursor of the chemicals that promote alertness. A mid-morning snack is another good time to include a protein-rich food, such as cottage cheese or a low fat yogurt.
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