The Food and Mood Connection

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | June 6, 2017

We all have those days when we feel invincible! We can do anything on our “to do” list and still have energy leftover to workout, call an old friend, play with the kids and do yard work! We also have those days when we can’t stand up for too long and feel drowsy, sluggish, irritable, and unmotivated, like as if we have to drag ourselves just to get through the day.

Well, there’s a reason for that! Convincing scientific research found links between our mental health and physical health. We now have a better understanding of how food and mood are connected. And guess what? Nutrition is not only the foundation of a healthy body but also a healthy MIND!

Eating healthy and providing the nutrients that your body needs to function can help you manage your mood! The opposite can be said about eating poorly, as it can impair how capable we are of feeling happiness and joy. It can also interfere with how we manage and cope with stress. No human being is immune to mood fluctuations and stress. Problems can arise from mental health issues, how we control our mood and how we react to stressful situations. Here are a few nutrition tips that you can easily implement to help you handle your mood so you can feel happier and healthier:

  1. TIMING
    Eat at regular intervals throughout the day. Don’t skip breakfast or lunch and then gorge at dinner. This will prevent you from being in a good mood! Having three to six smaller meals spread throughout the day is the way to go. It regulates blood sugars levels and feeds your energy level consistently.
  2. POWER UP WITH PROTEIN
    Eat quality sources of protein at every meal. Choose healthy proteins such as eggs, nuts, fish, quinoa, yogurt, lean meats, dairy, and beans. Protein is broken down into amino acids once digested, and amino acids are the building blocks of muscles and brains chemicals called neurotransmitters. Protein is responsible for stabilizing blood sugar as well as increasing the release of beneficial brain chemicals!
  3. SKIP THE SUGAR
    Limit refined sugar as much as possible. Reduce or eliminate foods like doughnuts, candies, cereal bars, crackers, high sugar cereals, high sugar beverages, and sodas. Choose naturally sweet foods to fill this void such as fruits and unsweetened dried fruits that have more nutrients and fiber to assist in blood sugar control and keep you feeling full for longer periods of time.
  4. VEGGIES ARE FUN!
    Most of us don’t get enough of these vitamin and mineral powerhouses. Make this a priority! Have veggies in every meal. Be creative! Enjoy them in your smoothies, power bowls, salads, sandwiches or omelets. Try to eat 4 to 6 servings per day every day!
  5. FATS ARE OUR FRIENDS
    Good fats that is! Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in brain health and mood. Consuming fish, olive oil, avocado, flax seeds, walnuts, and grass-fed beef has been linked to improved mood and lower incidence of depression. They also lower inflammation throughout the body. On the flip side, diets very low in healthy fats have been linked to depression.
  6. CUT THE CAFFEINE
    Are you consuming too much caffeine? Most of us can’t get through the morning without our routine cup of Joe – or tea for our non-coffee drinkers. We need to remember that caffeine is a stimulant. Too much caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety, which can lead to depression. Depending on what time of day you have caffeine, it can also interfere with sleep patterns. Caffeine has some benefits, so I’m not saying that it should be eliminated. Simply keep caffeine consumption within limits and monitored in terms of quantity and timing.

If you’re tired of feeling tired, pay attention to what you’re eating and how you’re eating. Small changes, such as adding more veggies to your meals and cutting back on caffeine, can make huge impacts on your energy level and mood throughout the day.


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Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/Active.com Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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