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March 11, 2009 > Get the Scoop on Food and Mood

Get the Scoop on Food and Mood

Dietitian Talks About Improving Mood, Overall Well-Being Through Diet

You are what you eat. We've all heard the expression before. And it's been proven over and over that the foods we consume have an effect on our bodies. By choosing the right foods, many times we can prevent or manage conditions like high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes.

But the influence diet has is not limited to physical well-being. The foods we choose also have a tremendous influence on our moods, according to Amy Kelly, R.D., a registered dietitian at Washington Hospital.

"Certain types of food like refined carbohydrates can impact mood by causing a temporary 'high' from elevation in blood sugar and then a corresponding 'energy crash' from low blood sugar, " Kelly points out. "However, meal timing can have just as big of an impact as any certain food."

On Thursday, March 19, Kelly will present a Lunch and Learn seminar at the Washington Women's Center titled Food & Mood: What's Food Got to Do With It?

Improve your mood by eating right

Kelly will answer common questions about the hows and whys of foods' effect on mood and will help participants find optimal ways to fuel their bodies.

With almost all foods, Kelly says, moderation is a key to better managing the food-mood relationship.

"Food affects different people in different ways," according to Kelly. "However, generally speaking, excessive amounts of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol can have a negative effect on mood."

This doesn't mean you have to give up your morning cup of coffee, renounce desserts and forego that glass of wine with dinner. Kelly says that for most healthy individuals, small amounts of these foods can have a positive effect.

How it works

Food, like any other substance introduced into the body, is broken down for various uses, such as stored energy also known as fat. But food also affects the body's chemistry.

"The nutrients in foods are precursors to neurotransmitters, chemicals that transfer signals to the nervous system," Kelly explains. "These neurotransmitters provide messages that not only affect your mood, but also your energy level, stress level, and sleeping habits."

That said, if you aren't eating appropriate amounts of the right foods at the right times during the day, it could be why you're having trouble falling asleep, falling asleep during afternoon meetings or feeling excessive amounts of stress.

Eating and emotions

Then, there's always the opposite problem, Kelly points out. Many of us tend to reach for the cookie jar or a bag of chips at the vending machine in an attempt to alleviate emotional issues like stress.

"Many people engage in emotional eating, eating when they are bored, stressed or depressed," Kelly says. "It is important to identify your mood before choosing your snack. For instance, are you bored and looking to fill time? If so, cracking and shelling walnuts may fill the time and satisfy your hunger. Are you feeling anxious? A bowl of fruit and yogurt may provide a relaxing effect."

Understanding why you gravitate toward particular snacks during the day can make it easier to choose foods that will help, not hurt, your mood. To help make sure you make the right food choices to improve your mood, make decisions before you get hungry. Pack a healthy lunch and snacks the night before and resist the urge to stop by the vending machine.

Better choices, better mood

Kelly says that many of her patients in the hospital have similar questions about food and mood. Two of the most common are:
* Why do I crave chocolate?
* How do you avoid restless nights of sleep, due to what you ate for dinner?

After her Lunch and Learn presentation, Kelly says she hopes women walk away with "an increased understanding that what you put in your body is the most important decision in your day."

"The food that you eat can send a positive message to your brain, which will impact every aspect of your life," Kelly says. "Choosing foods wisely improves mood, energy level, stress level, and sleeping habits."

All these factors combined can't help but improve overall health, Kelly concludes.

What's food got to do with it?

To find out the secrets to food and mood, join Amy Kelly, R.D., for her Lunch and Learn presentation on Thursday, March 19, from 12 to 1 p.m. at the Washington Women's Center, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

To register for the class, call (800) 963-7070.

To find out more about upcoming classes or programs at the Washington Women's Center, call (510) 608-1301 or (866) 608-1301 or visit, click on "Services & Programs," choose "Women's Health" and select "Wellness Classes & Services" from the drop-down menu.

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