Mood is a very complex matter. It is a change in emotional state that involves a cascade of chemicals triggered by the things that happen in our lives—our relationships, stress from our jobs, state of finances, our activities (or lack thereof), and ultimately, what we eat.
Food is a bag of chemicals that instantly affects your mood. Before food is broken down in your body to distribute the nutrients it carries, it has already affected your brain. The mere sight of food that makes you salivate means your brain is already working. The brain is the first organ affected by food.
“People think it’s all about how much we weigh. But in the end, it’s all about how we feel,” said Dr. Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., author of the book “Power Eating: Add Muscle, Lose Fat, Improve Energy.”
Kleiner was in the country as guest speaker of Healthy Options’ “Power Eating” seminar at Shangri-La Manila, Makati City. She is a nutrition consultant of the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle SuperSonics, Cleveland Brown, Miami Heat and Thunderbirds, among other pro sports teams and team members, including Olympians Kelly Stephens, Trish Zuccotti and Jill Kintner.
Just about any diet, Kleiner says, will make you lose weight because you’re changing the way you’re eating. But most people go off that diet because it makes them feel bad. It’s a survival mechanism, she said. You will need, for instance, to keep your blood sugar even, because the minute it drops, you will crave for sugar.
“If you don’t feed your body every two-and-a-half hours, if you don’t feed the body what it needs throughout the day, your brain is going to drive you to eat,” she said.
Keep the serotonin levels in your body high enough that you feel good the entire day, she added. And when you’re feeling good, you’ll have a much better chance of sticking to your diet for the long haul. People need to flip the paradigm and develop a positive relationship with food.
Kleiner said a scientifically studied food combination allows your body to function at an optimum level, making the food you eat work for you. That means fueling your body to keep it in an anabolic state, effectively burning off fat, increasing muscle mass and keeping you energized.
Eating by default
“Think of what you need to eat, not what you can’t eat next. Many of us are eating by default. We are constantly told what we are not supposed to be doing. What a negative message. The diet world tells you your body doesn’t work, ‘but we’re going to fix you if you follow this plan.’ But what you need to think is how great your body is and how strong your mind can be,” Kleiner said.
You need to feed your brain just like you feed your muscles, she said. The most abundant and well-understood neurotransmitter is serotonin. Neurotransmitters, to put it simply, are chemicals that communicate information in our brain and body, carrying messages from one nerve cell to another.
Serotonin is manufactured in the brain. Tryptophan, an amino acid from proteins in our diet, is the building block for serotonin in the brain. A carrier molecule will latch on to tryptophan in the blood stream and usher it into the brain. If your tryptophan is low your serotonin drops, and you will feel depressed.
But while tryptophan is found in protein, it does not follow that a high-protein diet will make you feel good, Kleiner said. A security system in the brain called the blood barrier system keeps large compounds from crossing. There are seven other amino acids similar to tryptophan that the same carrier molecule recognizes.
On a high-protein diet, too much amino acid creates fierce competition for the tryptophan to get into the brain. Ultimately, tryptophan doesn’t get in—at least, not in high enough quantities to raise serotonin levels, Kleiner said.
Don’t ditch your carbs. Kleiner said a healthy combination of carbs and protein keeps the serotonin levels even. When carbs is mixed with proteins, it feeds your brain and slows down digestion, giving you a time-release of carbs to get to your blood stream. As fuel, the carbs helps the protein create an anabolic hormonal environment.
“So all day long you are getting this wash of low levels of carbs that are high enough to keep your blood sugar even and serotonin levels high and feeling good. It keeps your mood elevated,” she said.
And there’s the good side to sugar. It is rapidly absorbed in the body so you feel good instantly. This is especially helpful when taken during or after a workout. Unfortunately, when your blood sugar level spikes on a regular basis, it becomes stressful to the body.
The body’s stress response requires an abundant production of enzymes. To produce all the enzymes, it needs to break down the proteins very quickly,. When that happens, your tryptophan levels drop from breaking down the protein. It is now using tryptophan for the wrong reason. Tryptophan will no longer be going to your brain to produce serotonin.
“So now you need to eat sugar again to get the tryptophan in the brain and manufacture the feel-good serotonin. We do this over and over, so that within a week to 10 days, you will notice you will be craving more and more sugar to keep your mood elevated,” Kleiner said.
It takes a while for your body to change from overconsumption of sugar, but the brain has already been affected. It is important, she said, to get the right amount of protein and carbs in your body to keep the serotonin levels even throughout the day.
Low blood sugar is also bad news, as it makes your body go into a catabolic state, slowing down your metabolic rate and breaking down tissues.
“There has to be a balance in our lives and a balance in our body. If your diet is lower than 40 percent of calories from carbs, the research is clear that it’s going to get depressing. You won’t be getting enough carbs to raise your serotonin all day long,” she said.
Rice, the Filipinos’ staple source of carbohydrates, is a high-glycemic-index food. There is not much difference between brown and white rice except for the fiber, Kleiner said. Both can quickly raise the blood sugar. When combined with protein and healthy fats, it is still a good-mood food. But you need to make that rice work for you, she said.
“You need an active lifestyle. If you had rice for breakfast, go out and exercise, or eat rice after a workout,” she said.
Adding fat into your diet is important. Kleiner said a diet with fat consumption lower than 25-30 percent of total calories inhibits the body’s ability to cope with stress. Choose healthy fat from marine oils, olive oils, nuts, seeds, avocado and egg yolks.
“There was never research that proves an egg yolk a day raises cholesterol levels and increases your chance to develop heart disease. Four studies today show that an egg yolk or two absolutely does not raise cholesterol levels. In fact, dietary cholesterol is not the culprit; it’s saturated fat,” she said.
Refrain from eating food that promotes inflammation, such as fried food, refined starches, fastfood and packaged food. Anti-inflammatory food includes apples, onions, citrus fruits and juices, fatty fish, pineapple, prunes, green beans, kale, nuts, olives, extra-virgin olive oil, seeds, turmeric, vegetable oils and wheat germ.
Feel-great food are air-popped popcorn, bananas, grape juice, green tea, beans, lean pork, blueberries, low-fat/fat-free dairy, mango, broccoli, nuts, one to two servings of caffeine-containing beverages, cocoa powder or chocolates in small amounts, olives, olive oil, oranges, pomegranate, soy, dark leafy greens, spinach, strawberries, sunflower seeds, turkey, unrefined vegetable oils, whole grains, garlic, ginger, grapefruit, flax seed, egg yolk, fish and seafood.
“Eat five fish meals a week, minimum. Fish protein, among all proteins, is the most effective in helping burn abdominal fat,” Klein said.
“Power Eating: Add Muscle, Lose Fat, Improve Energy” is available at Healthy Options.