Beyond the belly: How food makes you feel

December 12, 2016

Is there something you like to eat that gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling?

Of course there is. Physical sensations, like the tastes of foods and the sounds of music, can create certain feelings — and we all have those experiences.

But did you know that foods can alter your thinking?

Well, they can. And there are certain foods you’ll want to be watchful of because they can depress your mind, block new inspiration and possibly even impact your relationships or feelings about yourself.

The food-thought connection

If you’re like me, eating tasty foods make you feel happy immediately. That is why we call them comfort foods. When you feel stressed out and hungry at the same time, you want a quick food fix.  Let’s name a few of these, shall we?

For me it is salty corn chips, or hot ciabatta bread with melted butter. Cold Stone ice-cream, or other dessert foods like doughnuts, cake or pie will likewise hit the spot.

Yes, they taste good for the moment, but afterwards you’ll feel sluggish physically and mentally. If you get a large enough sugar load, you’ll be ready for a nap because of this drug effect. You can recover by eating a large salad or fruit and nut smoothie. But what happens if you continue to primarily eat sugar-producing foods?

In a few days, you will discover your mental focus and creativity drops. That’s because ‘dead’ food lacking in micronutrients will surely spiral your mood downward and also affect your self-confidence and level of passion. You can call this an “allergy” to foods if you like. Either way, it is an adverse reaction caused by food.

But can these foods actually alter the way you think?

In the book Sugar Blues, (1975) by William Dufty, the author addresses the many ways refined sugar contributed to depressed mood and even personality changes. Everyone can identify with the many health problems that more than just a little refined sugar creates. However, I believe that because of the wonderful immediate gratification we get from refined sugar, most all of us ignore the physical health threats, as well as the mental and emotional depressive effects, it creates afterwards when not balanced with whole food.

Refined sugar seems to have an opposite, but equally unhealthy, effect on children. According to the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, refined sugar is known to cause hyperactivity, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and crankiness in children.  In those children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, refined sugar worsens ADHD symptoms according to the Journal of Pediatrics. And a report in NeuroScience demonstrates that refined sugar reduces learning capacity.

Processed foods with preservatives or dyes have been implicated to affect mental and emotional health too.

Two dyes that clearly show adverse effects on behavior are FD&C Yellow # 5 (tartrazine) and FD&C Red #3. I think there is an adverse cumulative effect from consuming chemical preservatives and refined foods — both are unnatural for the body.

One study of hyperactive children looked at their consumption of artificial colors and flavors, chocolate, monosodium glutamate, preservatives, caffeine, and any substance such as sugar or dairy which families felt might affect their specific child. In this study, more than half of the children showed reliable improvements in behavior when these foods were eliminated — with no adverse effects. The elimination of these foods even improved bad breath, night awakenings, and delayed sleep onset in these hyperactive children.

Recovering from sugar’s adverse effects

Contrariwise, when I get clear again about my real purpose in life, I feel the need for green foods, and colorful veggies — always prepared with flavorful spices and dressings. And when I crave something sweet, fruit in a smoothie or in plain yogurt (with stevia as a sweetener) hits the spot, yet keeps me feeling good. These foods never give me a mental or physical depression.

Therefore, when you wonder why your mood is not so good or your passion in life is less than par, then take a look at the micronutrient content of the foods you are eating. How much live food (raw, whole foods) are you getting in each meal? If it is less than 50 percent, you have room to improve for sure. This nutrient density chart can help:

The nutrient-density scores below are based on identified phytochemicals, antioxidant activity, and total vitamin and mineral content. The goal is to make your diet score as high as possible each day…

Highest nutrient density = 100 points
Lowest nutrient density = 0 points

Points Type of Food Examples
100 Dark Leafy Vegetables Kale, mustard greens, collard greens, Swiss chard, watercress, spinach, arugula
95 Other Green Vegetables Romaine, bok choy, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, string beans, snow peas, green beans
50 Non-Green Nutrient-Rich Vegetables beets, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, radishes, bean sprouts, red and yellow bell peppers, radicchio, cauliflower, tomatoes, artichokes, raw carrots
45 Fresh Fruits strawberries, blueberries, other berries, plums, oranges, melons, kiwifruit, apples, cherries, pineapple, peaches, pears, grapes, bananas
40 Beans lentils, kidney, great northern, adzuki, black, pinto, split peas, edamame, chickpeas
30 Raw Nuts And Seeds sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, flaxseed, almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts
25 Colorful Starchy Vegetables butternut and other squash, sweet potatoes, corn, turnips
20 Whole Grains/ White Potatoes old-fashioned oats, barley, brown and wild rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, bulgur, whole-grain bread, white potatoes
18 Fish
15 Fat-Free Dairy
15 Eggs
15 Wild Meat And Fowl
8 Full-Fat Dairy
6 Red Meat
6 Refined Grain Products
3 Cheese
1 Refined Oils
0 Refined Sweets Cookies, cakes, candy, soda

Watch out for the sneaky ways sugar effects can sneak into your diet from food sources you might not expect, including carbohydrates.

You don’t need to become a raw foodist. Just start looking at how much better you think and feel after whole foods each day. It will make a difference in your mood. Who knows…it could even make a difference in your relationships.

To your best food choices,

Michael Cutler, M.D.

  1. https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=Sugar+Blues+by+William+Dufty
  2. Goldman, J, et al. “Behavioral Effects of Sucrose on Preschool Children.” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.1986;14(4):565-577.
  3. Jones, T W, et al. “Enhanced Adrenomedullary Response and Increased Susceptibility to Neuroglygopenia: Mechanisms Underlying the Adverse Effect of Sugar Ingestion in Children.” Journal of Pediatrics. Feb 1995;126:171-7.
  4. Molteni, R, et al. “A High-fat, Refined Sugar Diet Reduces Hippocampal Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor, Neuronal Plasticity, and Learning.” NeuroScience. 2002;112(4):803-814.
  5. Rowe KS, Rowe KJ. Synthetic food coloring and behavior: a dose response effect in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, repeated-measures study. J. Pediatr. 1994 Nov;125(5 Pt 1):691-8.
  6. Kaplan BJ, McNicol J, Conte RA, Moghadam HK. Dietary replacement in preschool-aged hyperactive boys. Pediatrics 1989 Jan;83(1):7-17.

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