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How Local Food Affects Your Mood

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Category : Whatcom Locavore Basics

How Food Affects Your MoodA friend asked me recently, “What’s a locavore food you can eat when you’re feeling blue (or tired)?” Serendipitously, I had just been studying how food affects your mood, so thought I’d share some of what I’ve been learning.To begin with, let’s look at some typical eating behaviors that can lead to feeling depressed or exhausted. See if this cycle sounds familiar. You wake up in the morning, knowing you didn’t get enough sleep. To get yourself going you gulp down a cup of coffee (albeit a delicious latte) for the caffeine hit. You may also grab a sugary muffin or pastry while you’re at the drive-up window. Your day is overscheduled, leaving little or no down time, which leads to more stress. Stress leads to sleeping less, which leads to reaching for caffeine and sugar for a quick energy high, which is followed by an energy crash and the need for another energy fix. You often skip lunch or have a co-worker pick up fast food for you, even though you know it’s not healthy. By the end of the day your energy ups and downs have left you exhausted, so you skip the gym, telling yourself you don’t have time. When you get home, you have a glass of wine or a beer to unwind. (Alcohol and lack of exercise contribute to more poor sleep, of course.) And so the cycle continues.

How can this possibly help us feel well either physically or mentally? Talk about unsustainable practices!

Factors which can actually help you maintain high energy and a cheerful mood throughout the day are complex and interrelated, but there are some basic principles. Here’s the short list, with details to follow:
- Lower your stress level.
- Exercise.
- Keep blood sugar levels steady.
- Increase levels of serotonin (a brain neurotransmitter that affects mood).
- Eat plenty of antioxidants (especially Omega-3 fatty acids) and B vitamins (especially folic acid).
- Go outside.

Lowering your stress level is the first place to start for long-term mood and energy improvment. Chronic stress depletes some important nutrients (such as the B vitamins) and keeps cortisol flooding through the body. Cortisol has been linked to increasing belly fat, the kind of fat that can bring on heart disease. Our bodies were not designed to be in a “fight or flight” state all day every day. We need the balance of time every day to literally do nothing. Believe me, I know how difficult that concept can be to put into practice, but it seriously might save your life.

Exercise can help reduce stress and lift our mood, too, producing endorphins (brain hormones that make us feel happier). “I don’t have enough time,” is a common excuse we use for avoiding exercise, and it’s also a common excuse for not eating healthy foods. I recently found a great technique for dealing with that excuse. Instead of saying, “I don’t have enough time to exercise,” try saying, “Exercise isn’t a priority for me.” You may say that’s not true, that exercise actually is a priority for you, but the reality is what we do shows exactly what our priorities are, not what we believe they are.

Keeping blood sugar levels steady begins with a healthy, non-sugary breakfast, and also involves avoiding foods that give a quick spike of energy and then later blood sugar drops dramatically. Sugary foods and processed foods are the common culprits. However that doesn’t mean all carbohydrates are bad. Fruits and complex carbohydrates such as vegetables provide energy in a slower, sustained way, raising the blood sugar gradually and falling off gradually.

Combining complex carbohydrates with a good protein (eggs, lean meat, or poultry) not only delivers a steady energy supply but enhances the availability of serotonin, too. Serotonin helps us feel calmer, and enhances sleep. Many dietitians recommend including protein and complex carbohydrates in every meal.

Eating local foods can support all these mood-enhancing options. Research shows that eating chemical-free organic foods reduces your physical stress. If you garden or u-pick some fruits or vegetables at a farm you’ll be getting some exercise and getting outside (building up antidepressant Vitamin D). Eating sweet local berries and dark leafy greens provides complex carbohydrates to boost your energy naturally, as well as antioxidants and plenty of B vitamins. Grassfed beef and free range pastured chicken eggs are also rich in antioxidants, and provide the healthy protein to combine with your complex carbohydrates. All these things are readily available from our dedicated local farmers.

Voila! When you focus on local foods, you may gradually discover that you become happier and have more energy, too! Give it a try!

Here’s a snack recipe that includes some mood-elevating local foods:
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