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Your Mood, Your Food
By Kara Holsopple

How do you feel when you eat a fresh, ripe peach? How about when you take a bite of your grandma's famous lasagna? Your eyes may say one thing, your body may feel another way, and your mood may take an entirely different direction, especially minutes or even hours later. There are some complex physiological processes going on each time you wrap your lips around a meal or snack, and scientists and the medical community are still coming up with reasons why foods make us feel balanced, elated or deflated. But some sage advice for how to lift your mood naturally is becoming evident.

Got Carbs?
A study cited late last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that when a group of overweight and obese people were put on a low fat but high carbohydrate diet, they not only lost an average of thirty pounds, but reported feeling happier and experiencing less anxiety than they had before. The key here seems to be serotonin, a chemical in our brains that produces feelings of well being. Eating carbohydrate rich foods like whole grain bread and popcorn (it's not cheating, it really is a whole grain!), without added fat or protein, could help keep you feeling warm and fuzzy.

No Spiking
This is not just a rule for volleyball, anymore. Certain types of carbohydrates, namely simple sugars and refined carbohydrates, can make your blood sugar levels soar- and then crash soon afterward. Many people feel irritable when this happens. Eating whole foods, like fruits instead of just their juices, can help. The fiber can help slow down the influence of the natural sugars, keeping that sweet high going longer, and gently bringing you back down.

Good Fats
When the fats in your diet are out of balance, your mood may be, as well. Sometimes a diet that includes a lot of prepared foods and packaged foods also contains too many of the Omega 6 fats found in sunflower oil and other fats used in these products. Increasing the amount of Omega 3 fats, found in some fish and plants like flax seeds, can tip the balance in the right direction. A study of patients with Type 2 Diabetes who were suffering with depression as a result of their disease found that a high intake of Omega 3 fats protected against further depression and could be a safe way to treat depression.

Folic Acid
No, you don't need to take a pill. You can get your B Vitamins, including folate, by eating a variety of delicious vegetables and fruits including any leafy green, broccoli, cantaloupe and beets. Sunflower seeds and liver are also high in folic acid. Multiple studies have found that the diets of depressed people are often low in folate and vitamin B-12.

Chocolate, Please
Some foods have a naturally uplifting affect on our moods, and hold a special place in our hearts. Natural raw chocolate, without the added fat and sugar of commercial candy bars, is number one on that list. Janet McKee, a Pittsburgh health counselor, sometimes recommends a dessert of raw cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and bananas- blended, frozen and served with fresh or frozen organic raspberries. She says it's a decadent treat that won't cause that unwanted blood sugar rise, but will tune into the chemical process that is similar to how we feel when we are in love.

McKee has seen the effects of food on mood firsthand, for herself and her clients. She began eating a plant-based diet to help heal a physical issue she was having, and found more than she bargained for. "I noticed as I started to eat the foods that supported my body, my temper eased," she says. One of McKee's clients who has been fighting a terminal cancer diagnosis has noticed a dramatic life improvement from stepping up the quality of food in her diet. McKee says her client is so much happier, that she has even reported finding herself humming!

McKee's best advice to people looking for a change in their own mood when it comes to food? Be your own best expert, and try stepping away from food that make you feel unbalanced or low in energy- like sugar, wheat, processed foods and dairy. See how you feel, and make the changes that make sense for you.

Kara Holsopple is Marketing and Member Services Manager at the East End Food Co-op, a not-for-profit, member-owned natural and organic foods grocer. The store is open to all and is located in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh. For more information, visit www.eastendfood.coop.

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