Happy Eating

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Last week  I wrote about which foods and nutritional supplements improve your mood and energy levels. In this week’s article we will take a look at how what you eat might be contributing to low mood, anxiety and irritability, and what to do about it.

Apart from lack of sleep, one of the most common causes of tiredness and irritability is blood sugar imbalance. Skipping meals can cause blood sugar levels to fall to below optimal levels, which results in tiredness and the release of stress hormones, which in turn leads to irritability and anxiety.

Low blood sugar levels also cause sugar cravings. Unfortunately, consumption of sugar and sugary foods such as cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolate, and fizzy drinks, and other refined carbohydrates such as white bread, tends to cause a sudden rise in blood sugar levels, which then quickly plummet again, leading to increased irritability and cravings for more sugar.

Some people crave caffeine-containing drinks such as coffee and Coke when they are feeling tired. These also temporarily increase blood sugar levels by helping the body to release stored sugars into the bloodstream. However they also cause release of stress hormones that lead to irritability and anxiety.

 In order to stabilize your blood sugar levels it is important to avoid caffeine, sugary foods, and other refined carbohydrates as much as possible. Eat at regular intervals (at least every 3-4 hours) and stick to complex carbohydrates such as brown rice and wholemeal bread. Always combine carbohydrates with protein, for example, eat fresh or dried fruit with a handful of nuts, and eat wholemeal toast or oatcakes with hummous or nut butter. Only eat sweet foods as an occasional treat and only after a meal or healthy snack.

You will be amazed at just how much you can improve your mood and energy levels by simply keeping your blood sugar steady throughout the day.

Another very common dietary cause of fatigue and low mood is food intolerance. If you regularly suffer from symptoms such as abdominal bloating, constipation or loose bowels, tiredness after meals, poor concentration, headaches, excessive mucus or sinus congestion, you may well be suffering from an intolerance to certain foods.

Most people are aware that food intolerance can cause digestive problems, but few people realise that it can also lead to symptoms such as tiredness, depression, irritability, anxiety and even hyperactivity in children. The most common culprits are dairy products, yeast, and gluten (which is predominantly found in wheat, but is also found in oats, spelt, rye and barley, and in most packaged foods).

These foods should be completely eliminated from the diet for 6 weeks, preferably under the guidance of an experienced healthcare professional. Again, you will be amazed at the effect that poorly tolerated foods have on your mood and energy levels once you have eliminated them from your diet.

If you experience depression anxiety or fatigue which is worse before menstruation, this is probably due to hormonal imbalance, which can also be affected by your diet. Eating lots of red meat, dairy products and food stored or heated in plastic packaging increases your oestrogen levels, while low fibre diets and consumption of alcohol prevents excess oestrogen being excreted from the body. You can improve your hormone balance by eating less meat and dairy products and increasing your consumption of green leafy vegetables, soya products such as tofu, miso and tempeh, and including plenty of fluids and high fibre foods in your diet.

There are also plenty of natural remedies which can help you along the way. Herbs such as Gymnema and Ashwaganda are great for reducing sugar cravings, while others such as Astragalus and chamomile help to improve digestion and heal the damage caused by food intolerance. Agnus castus and milk thistle are good for restoring hormone balance.

Helpful nutritional supplements include magnesium and chromium for sugar cravings, probiotics to help the digestive system following damage by food intolerance, and Evening primrose or starflower oil and vitamin B6 for hormonal imbalance. A qualified medical herbalist can help you to identify if your eating habits are contributing to fatigue or mood disturbance, prescribe an individually-tailored blend of herbs, and give detailed advice about diet and nutritional supplements.

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