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  • Dr. Nancy

How Your Food Choices Can Affect More Than Your Weight

What you eat can affect many areas of your health from your mood to how well you sleep. Food is more than just calories. It is information. The food you eat influences how well your body functions, down to the cellular level.

Your body needs a wide range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to keep you in great physical and mental condition so it’s important to choose wisely to nourish it. Here’s how your food choices can affect your mood, sleep, concentration and even your chances of developing depression.

Food choices affect more than weight.

How Food Affects Your Mood

If your blood sugar fluctuates too much, it can leave you feeling tired and irritable. Ideally, you want to be eating foods that have a low glycemic load and keep your blood sugar stable, which includes complex carbs such as brown rice, oats and whole grains. Nuts and seeds are also great for this.

Some foods can have a direct effect on your mood too. Fatty fish is packed with omega 3 fatty acids that affect the production of neurotransmitters in your brain, especially serotonin and dopamine. Both of these have a really strong link with your mood and low levels are linked to mood disorders.

Fatty fish isn’t the only food that gives you an omega 3 boost; flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts also count. For dopamine, make sure you’re getting plenty of poultry, fish, eggs and leafy greens in your diet.

Protein is another nutrient that can affect your mood. A lot of foods with protein contain tryptophan, an amino acid that can help your body to produce more serotonin and dopamine. Chicken and turkey are good sources but if you’re a vegetarian, you can eat beans, lentils and quinoa to reap the benefits.

What you’re not eating can also be important. According to studies, not getting enough folate or B vitamins in general can make you more prone to depression and have a negative impact on your sleep and energy levels. Greens are a great source of folate so be sure to include plenty of leafy greens, broccoli and peas if you’re struggling with low mood. Low selenium levels are also linked to fatigue, anxiety and even depression. Walnuts and Brazil nuts are good sources of selenium.

Depression may be linked to chemical imbalances in the brain, but some nutrients are thought to make this more likely, especially if you’re deficient in them. For example, low levels of vitamin D are linked to a higher risk of depression and experts believe that getting enough vitamin D can be crucial for a healthy mind. Natural sunlight is the best option, but you can also get vitamin D from your diet through fatty fish, eggs and liver. These are important foods to include in your diet regardless of sun exposure.

How Food Affects Sleep

You might not realize it but what you eat can have a big impact on how well you sleep. Some foods are known to encourage sleep because of the nutrients they contain and anything containing magnesium is a good bet, according to studies. Need a magnesium boost? Go for leafy greens (especially spinach), almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and a high-quality dark chocolate.

Another important nutrient is vitamin B6, which your body uses to make both melatonin and serotonin. If you’re not aware of melatonin and its role in the body, it’s known as the “sleep hormone”. Our melatonin levels can be disrupted by “blue light” from screens, devices and LED lights. And as low levels of melatonin can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep, it’s definitely something you want your body to be producing adequate amounts of.

When it comes to melatonin, tryptophan helps here too (not just with mood!) as it helps your body to make more melatonin. Chicken, turkey, nuts and seeds all contain tryptophan and can help with melatonin production.

How Food Affects Concentration

If you find yourself struggling with concentration and focus, it’s time to look at your diet and whether you’re eating foods that are known to help.

A 2013 study found that people who were drinking 2 cups of cacao every day for a month were able to improve blood flow to their brains, which led to better results in memory tests. If you’d rather not drink a cup of cacao, a square of high-quality dark chocolate (minimum 70% cacao) can have a similar effect as long as there aren’t high sugars or other additives.

In a 2012 report, drinking blueberry juice daily for two months also led to better performance on memory and learning tests. This means that snacking on blueberries can be perfect if you need a focus boost!

And of course, there’s always water! Dehydration can cause tiredness and concentration problems, even if you’re only slightly dehydrated. Drinking a glass of water could be all you need to get more focused, if dehydration is the problem.

Food wise, the omega 3 fatty acids in wild-caught Alaskan salmon can reduce cognitive decline and keep your brain sharp and focused. Another good reason to eat fatty fish a couple of times per week!

Now that you know how food impacts more than just your weight, you can make easy adjustments to make sure you are getting those key nutrients. A food first approach to optimizing your health goes beyond weight loss and can improve your quality of life on many levels.

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