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The Food-Mood Solution: Better Eating Habits and Supplementation Can Reduce Stress, Improve Mood
by Jack Challem

Combine the added stress of the holidays with its extra opportunities for high-calorie feasting, and you have the formula for Scrooge mood. While most people sense that the food they eat affects their mood, they might not be aware of dietary factors that contribute to mood or how they may be used to improve them.

Two of these factors are: blood sugar, which our bodies make chiefly from dietary sugars and other carbohydrates, as well as from some fats and protein; and a group of nutrients I call neuronutrients, the building blocks of neurotransmitters or brain chemicals that determine whether we're excited or calm, stressed or mellow.


Our moods tend to track with blood sugar levels. Most people feel pretty good right after eating as their climbing blood sugar leads to feelings of contentment. However, if blood sugar climbs too high, a sign of pre-diabetes, people start to feel sleepy.

Conversely, when blood sugar drops too low, such as when weÕve delayed eating, we tend to get impatient, irritable, angry, and sometimes physically aggressive. This low blood-sugar response is a vestige of ancient biology, when being hungry was a signal to aggressively hunt for food.

Today, most don't hunt for food. But pressures at work and home often prompt us to delay or skip meals. Eventually, we "crash" and feel famished, irritable, even physically shaky. The quickest fix is a sugary snack or beverage to prop up our energy and mental focus. Unfortunately, blood sugar rises too high and fast, causing the body to respond with a surge of insulin that lowers levels too much and perpetuates the blood-sugar rollercoaster ride, where moods go up and down several times a day.


The dietary solution is to emphasize quality protein and high-fiber vegetables and fruits. These proteins include fish, chicken, turkey, and lean meats. High-fiber vegetables and fruits include salad greens, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, rasp-berries, blueberries, kiwi, and apples.

Proteins stabilize blood sugar and feed neurotransmitters. Fruit and vegetables provide a nutritionally rich and balanced profile, plus their fiber also stabilizes blood sugar. If you want to avoid or limit your consumption of eggs, try steel-cut oatmeal, which has many of the same benefits as protein. Instant oatmeal does not have this same benefit. Follow the same protein-rich and fiber-rich eating habits at each meal, while limiting your intake of sugars and starchy (carb-rich) foods, and this formula has the added benefit of reducing appetite, so people eat less and lose weight.


Neuronutrients form the biochemical building blocks of our brain chemistry. Amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, form the core of our neurotransmitters. Vitamins and minerals help convert amino acids to fully functional neurotransmitters. Some fats are also important - more than half of the brain consists of fats. The following supplements are among my top neuronutrients:

L-theanine (Suntheanine®) - This amino acid, found in green and black tea, can take the edge off stress and anxiety in about 30 minutes, and it seems to work even faster when people anticipate a stressful situation. Its benefits may last up to 12 hours.

L-theanine works by increasing the activity of alpha waves in the brain, which are associated with feeling both relaxed and alert. The only other ways to achieve this relaxed-yet-alert combination is through meditation and yoga. Another mood-enhancing mechanism is its ability to increase levels of several neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamineÑin effect promoting a neurotransmitter balance. Even more impressive is the way L-theanine does so without causing drowsiness.

In a recent study, researchers asked college students to work on stressful 20-minute math problems on four different occasions. During all of the tests, the studentsÕ heart rate and feelings of stress increased. However, when the students took 200 mg of L-theanine before or during a test, they had significantly reduced stress levels. I recommend the "Suntheanine®" form of L-theanine, not a generic L-theanine, for it is the highest quality, standardized form on the market. Suntheanine is sold by many different companies, both by itself and in combinations with other mood-mellowing nutrients. Take 50 mg to 200 mg, one to three times daily.

Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) - This amino acid helps people maintain mental focus. It works by filtering out the equivalent of distracting background noise in the brain and nervous system, thereby allowing only the most important information to be processed. People with anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia often have low levels of GABA. Because their minds are not good at filtering out the extraneous, they respond to too much sensory and stimulating activities or information, giving others the impression of being distracted, impulsive, or jumpy. GABA is best taken on an empty stomach.

B-complex vitamins - Long known for their anti-stress benefits, B vitamins help convert amino acids, such as L-tryptophan, into functional neurotransmitters such as serotonin. B-complex vitamins help maintain upbeat moods and mental clarity and focus. They're also involved in burning food for both physical and mental energy. Carlson's Mellow Mood
contains B vitamins combined with GABA and L-theanine for an effective relaxation formula.

Magnesium - This essential mineral is a muscle relaxant - important because most carry their stress and anxiety in tense muscles. ItÕs involved in more than 300 enzymatic reactions that influence heart rate, muscle tone, and bone density. Muscle spasms, "charley horses," and restless-leg syndrome are often signs of magnesium deficiency.

Omega-3 fish oils - Fish oils contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are incorporated into brain cells, where they influence how cells communicate with each other. Studies show that the omega-3s can help reduce impulsive behavior, hostility, and physical aggressiveness. In a double-blind study of 40 middle-age men and women, the supplementation of 1.5 g of DHA daily led to significant reductions in aggressive behavior toward others in just two months. It is important to choose a high-quality fish oil such as Carlson's Cod Liver Oil to ensure purity and freshness.

Everyone is entitled to enjoy good moodsÑand to share them with friends and relatives, especially at holiday gatherings. To help manage the temptations and stressors of the holidays, consider adopting mood-enhancing eating habits and some of the top mood-balancing supplements.

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