Food can positively change your mood

By: By Angela Ponivas, M.S.W. Special to The News Messenger
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Lately, there has been lots of discussion on radio and television about the affects of gluten.

I never heard of gluten until recently but gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grains such as barley and rye.

It shows up in most breads, pasta, white rice and many other processed foods. The surprising discovery is that a connection is being made between gluten consumption and mental health.

Studies on gluten show that it can have an adverse effect on brain functioning and mood. Gluten is being linked to depression. And children on a gluten-free diet show improvements with ADHD symptoms or autism. The theory is that some absorb these proteins in a different way than others, and further, many brains are actually malnourished because they are not receiving enough “healthy” proteins.

In the end, we are coming back to the old cliché, “You are what you eat,” or rather, we certainly feel what we eat. Foods affect mood — for better or worse. There is not only a link between what you eat and your mood but also your energy, how you sleep and how well you think.

Here’s a closer look at how your diet could affect your mood.

1. You don’t eat regularly. Food is fuel; skip a meal and you’ll feel tired and cranky. It is best to eat a meal or snack every four hours. Breakfast is particularly important, especially for children. Studies show it helps kids perform better and get into less trouble at school.

2. You skimp on carbs. Carbohydrates are necessary to produce serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical that elevates mood, suppresses appetite and has a calming effect. Low-carb dieters are more likely to feel tired, angry, depressed and tense than those who get the recommended amount.

Some carbs, however, outshine others. Only complex carbs — high in fiber and packed with whole grains — have a positive effect on mood, whereas simple carbs such as candy, cake, cookies and other sugary choices bring you down.

3. You fall short on omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. Omega-3s improve memory and mood. Research suggests that low omega-3 levels are associated with depression, pessimism and impulsivity. Most experts recommend at least two servings of fatty fish per week.

4. You neglect important nutrients. Getting too little iron can spell depression, fatigue and inattention. Iron-rich foods include red meat, egg yolks, dried fruit, beans, liver and artichokes.

Scientists have also found that insufficient thiamine can cause “introversion, inactivity, fatigue, decreased self-confidence and a poorer mood.” Thiamine abounds in cereal grains, pork, yeast, cauliflower and eggs. Getting enough increases well-being, sociability and your overall energy level.

Equally important is folic acid, which helps fend off depression. Green veggies, oranges, grapefruit, nuts, sprouts and whole-wheat bread are good sources.

5. You eat too much fat. Those “comfort foods” are not only bad for your waistline but they negatively affect your mood. Greasy choices, particularly those high in saturated fat, are linked to both depression and dementia. What’s more, a large, high-fat meal will almost instantly make you feel sluggish.

Quality of life and overall happiness is greatly influenced by our ability to make good choices. As the old adage goes, “Take care of your body and it will take care of you.”

We are fortunate to live in an area where healthy, organic foods are plentiful. Even CalFresh, California’s Food Stamp Program, is accepted at farmers’ markets, making healthy eating affordable to all.

Government and medical professionals alike know that if people eat healthy, the long-term productivity and benefits far outweigh the cost.

As spring approaches, please go to your farmers’ markets and begin enjoying fresh, healthy foods and make a commitment to eliminate the processed foods that can only bring you down.   


Angela Ponivas, M.S.W., is the Lighthouse Counseling & Family Resource Center’s executive director. Her phone is 645-3300; address is 427 A St., Suite 400; and Web site is