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Food and Mood: Second Edition: The Complete Guide To Eating Well and Feeling Your Best

Food and Mood: Second Edition: The Complete Guide To Eating Well and Feeling Your Best

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Food and Mood: Second Edition: The Complete Guide To Eating Well and Feeling Your Best

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719 pages
7 hours
Dec 15, 1999


Food and Mood will help you balance your moods, boost your energy level, and take back your life now!

Why do you feel tired after eating a full meal? Why do you have so much trouble concentrating? Why do you crave chocolate? Can diet affect depression? Is there a natural cure for insomnia? Nutrition expert Elizabeth Somer answers all these questions and more in this completely updated and revised second edition to her nutritional guide Food and Mood.

The result of research encompassing thousands of the most up-to-date scientific studies, Somer explains how what we eat has a direct influence on how we feel, think, sleep, look, and act. She addresses specific food-related issues including health conditions, food cravings, diet struggles, stress, PMS, winter blues, energy levels, depression, memory, and sleep patterns, as well as tackling the issue of supplements and providing the real story on those you need and those you don't.

This entirely new edition covers the latest information on how to:
- naturally fight fatigue and stress
- boost brain power and improve memory with the latest supplements
- fight depression with exercise and special dietary fats called omega-3 fatty acids
- satisfy your cravings for chocolate, ice cream, potato chips, and steak without sacrificing your waistline
- sleep better naturally
- and much more!

Included is Somer's revolutionary Feeling Good Diet, a program that shows you how to take control of your eating habits to benefit mood and mental functioning now.

Dec 15, 1999

Об авторе

Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., is a consulting nutritionist and a regular contributor to such national magazines as Shape, Better Homes and Gardens, and American Health. She is also the author of Food & Mood, Nutrition for Women (0-8050-7081-8), Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy (0-8050-6998-4), and The Origin Diet (0-8050-6928-3). She lives in Salem, Oregon.

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Food and Mood - Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D.

For Patrick,

my lifelong partner, who sticks by me

no matter what my moods

Table of Contents

Title Page




CHAPTER ONE - How Food Affects Your Mood

Getting to Know Your Neurons

A Symphony of Chemicals

What You Eat Affects How You Feel

The Diet-Made Chemicals: Serotonin, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Acetylcholine

The Survival Chemicals: Neuropeptide Y (NPY), Galanin, and the Endorphins

Beyond the Brain

The Highs and Lows of Blood Sugar

When Eating Becomes Unhealthy

Nature Versus Nurture

How Are You Eating? A Self-Assessment

CHAPTER TWO - Do You Crave Carbohydrates?

Biological Callings

Endorphins, Sugar, and Instant Gratification

Doing the Blood-Sugar Boogie

How Sweet It Is

Eat and Be Merry

CHAPTER THREE - Other Food Cravings: Sweet-and-Creamy, Chocolate, and Salt

Your Fat Tooth

Fat for Survival

More on Endorphins and Fat Cravings

The Fat Thermostat

A Calorie Is Not Just a Calorie

Why We Crave Fat: A Simple Explanation

Fake Fats: There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Chocoholics: Can’t Live With It, Can’t Live Without It

That Craving for Salt

Cravings Finale

CHAPTER FOUR - No Energy? Could Be Your Diet

Your Mother Was Right

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Sugarcoated Sleeping Pill

Bypassing the Midday Doldrums

Ironing Out Fatigue

Vitamins and Minerals in Short Supply

Can Food Allergies Cause Fatigue?

Additives, Preservatives, and Fatigue

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Dietary Approach

The Energizing Lifestyle


Premenstrual Syndrome: The Period Before Your Period

PMS, Calories, and Cravings

PMS Pills, Potions, and Powders

What You Can Do About PMS: From Fat and Coffee to Supplements

Are You SAD?

SAD and Light

The Serotonin Connection

The Sunshine Vitamin and SAD

SAD Basics

Beyond Light and Diet

CHAPTER SIX - Food and the Blues

Stop the Cycle, I Want to Get Off

Amino Acid Alchemy

I’m in the Mood for Fat

The B6 Connection

Other Vitamins and Minerals: In the Pink or Feeling Blue?

Blues-Free Basics

That Exercise Thing You Do

Natural Mood Boosters

CHAPTER SEVEN - Stress and Diet

Prehistoric Stress

The Mind-Body Connection

How Stress Affects Your Nutrition

Worry and the Common Cold

Stress-Fighting Nutrition Factors

Caffeine Jitters, High Anxiety

Cholesterol and Hostility: Is There a Connection?

Calm Down with Exercise

Stress-Proof Basics


The History of Smart Foods

It Starts Earlier Than You Think

As You Eat, So Shall You Think

Fish Really Is Brain Food

Crank Up Cognition with Coffee

Antioxidants and the Brain Drain

B’s on the Report Card

What Do Eggs, Wheat Germ, and Your Brain Have in Common?

Phosphatidyl What?

Iron Intelligence

Exercise and De-Stress Your Brain

CHAPTER NINE - Can’t Sleep?

You’re Not Alone

Some Sleep-Stealing Foods

Are You Allergic to Sleep?

Night Awakenings

Boosting Serotonin: From Supplements to Popcorn

B Vitamins, Minerals, and Your Snooze Control

Stacking the Deck in Favor of Sleep


CHAPTER TEN - Why Do You Overeat?

Born to Be Hungry

When Chemicals Run Amok

Savor the Taste

Know How, No Way

Overeating All the Right Foods

CHAPTER ELEVEN - Food Abuse: Eating for All the Wrong Reasons

The Psychology of Eating Habits

Confusing Food with Love

Beyond Fad Diets

The ABCs of Food Abuse


CHAPTER TWELVE - The Feeling Good Diet

The Un-Diet

In a Nutshell

Before You Begin

You’re Worth It

CHAPTER THIRTEEN - Putting the Feeling Good Diet into Practice

The Shopping Tour

Produce Potpourri: Fresh, Frozen, Canned, and Organic

The Grain Exchange: Whole Grains Versus Refined

The Meat and Seafood Market

The Dairy Case

Planning Your Meals and Snacks

Five Simple Guidelines

The Right Pro-Portion

Satisfying Snacks

The Dining-Out Dilemma

Feeling Good Menus

CHAPTER FOURTEEN - Do You Need Supplements to Feel Good?

In Search of the Balanced Diet

So What?

Sixty-two Cups of Spinach

The Supplement Controversy

Supplements + Diet

The Guidelines: As Simple as 1, 2, 3


Also by Elizabeth Somer

Food Groups and Servings Sizes in the Feeling Good Diet

Recipes for Feeling Your Best


Selected References



Copyright Page


You are your own best mood and mental-health barometer. You know yourself better than anyone else, and you know when something is not quite right with your energy, your moods, your thinking, or your health in general. You know when stress is taking its toll, you’re not sleeping right, you can’t shake a gloomy mood, or you’re more irritable than usual. You know when your eating habits are out of control, your food cravings are at their peak, or your energy level isn’t what it used to be. As a physician and surgeon, I suspect that some of you reading this are like many of the patients I see every day: You often ignore these subtle red flags. You feel under the weather, but don’t feel bad enough to seek medical attention. But why settle for less when your life, health, and energy could be so much more? Why just get by when you could be living life to its fullest?

Taking charge of your health begins by being proactive and educating yourself. As Medical Correspondent for ABC’s Good Morning America and 20/20, I am well aware of what a daunting task it can be to sift through the conflicting advice about health care, diet, foods, vitamins, and herbs, trying to glean what’s fact and what’s fiction.

That’s why Food & Mood is such a valuable resource. Finally there is a fact-based, comprehensive, easy-to-read book you can trust. Elizabeth Somer has summarized the vast and still-growing scientific literature from more than two thousand recent studies on how our diets affect our moods, mental health, sleep patterns, energy levels, and even our ability to manage our weights. From basic advice to eat breakfast, cut back on coffee, and exercise more to the latest research on natural serotonin boosters, memory-enhancing supplements, and energizing herbs, she separates the facts from the hype and provides the essential take-home messages about what really works, what doesn’t, and why.

Food & Mood distills complex scientific information into practical tips and suggestions that are easy to incorporate into even the busiest lifestyles. Most importantly, Ms. Somer explains how to adopt habits gradually to make real, substantial, and lasting changes in our health, our energy levels, and our lives. Even in serious cases of clinical depression or other mental-health problems where medical attention is warranted, following the dietary advice in Food & Mood is an excellent supplement to good medical care.

Nancy Snyderman, M.D.


While researching the first edition of Food & Mood in 1994, I was amazed at the wealth of evidence linking what we eat with how we feel. Yet many of us have grown accustomed to feeling under the weather or not up to par; some of us are grumpy, tired, or muddled; and still others are unable to control their food cravings and are frustrated by weight gain. Many people unknowingly choose foods that aggravate depression, insomnia, fatigue, food cravings, stress, and memory loss, and prevent general good mental and emotional health. Others have developed food habits that are setting them up for uncontrollable cravings and weight gain. Yet making even small changes in what and when we eat can have profound effects on how we feel right now, tomorrow, and in the future. In many cases there’s no reason to put up with feeling bad, mindlessly overeating, or thinking poorly.

The link between food and mood is cyclical. If poor eating habits are the initial problem, then depression, mood swings, poor concentration, or fatigue can develop as a result of dietary deficiencies and excesses, which in turn result in more poor food choices. On the other hand, most people don’t make the effort to eat well when they’re depressed, tired, or stressed, and poor nutrition aggravates these emotional conditions. Before you know it, you feel bad, don’t know why, and have no idea what to do about it.

Consequently many people put up with feeling bad, ignore the warning signs, and live with the discomfort of getting by rather than feeling great. Granted, we know that what we eat affects our health: Fail to drink calcium-rich milk and we’re likely to develop osteoporosis; eat too much red meat and other foods high in saturated fats and we’re likely candidates for heart disease. The consequences of these choices, however, take decades to develop. Many people don’t realize how immediate is the food-mood connection. What you eat (or don’t eat) for breakfast will affect how clearly you think, whether or not you battle a food craving, and what your energy level will be a few hours later. What you chose to eat two hours ago is having an effect on your mood right now. You are much more likely to feel great, think clearly, sleep well tonight, and have the energy you need to live life to its fullest if you are fueling your body with the foods it needs. Why put up with feeling or thinking anything less than great when a natural solution is as easy as making a few simple changes in your food choices?

Of course your diet also is having long-range effects on your mood, thinking, and energy level. Protect your brain cells from damage by eating antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables and taking the right supplements and you’re likely to sidestep age-related memory loss in years to come. Stockpile your body and brain’s nutrient stores and you’ll handle stress better when it hits unexpectedly. Boost your intake of iron-rich foods and you might prevent fatigue in the future.

Even when what you eat is not directly related to how you feel, think, and act, improving your nutritional status always will help you feel better, give you more energy, and help fend off colds, infections, and other illnesses related to emotional problems. In short, if you want to feel your best, you have to eat the best.

What’s Changed in the Last Few Years?

In the six years since Food & Mood was first published, the research on the relationship between mood and food has increased exponentially. In the early 1990s a handful of known appetite-control chemicals were orchestrating our appetites; that list increased substantially by the turn of the century. The simplified approach to curbing appetite by regulating one chemical, such as serotonin, has been abandoned as we become increasingly aware of how chemicals and hormones from both the brain and the body work intricately together. Diet often can do what no medication can: gently and simultaneously rebalance your appetite-control chemicals.

Dietary approaches to manage naturally your brain chemistry and appetite also have changed with the times. Even five years ago carbohydrate-rich cookies or a bagel were considered the only way to raise serotonin levels. New research shows that a special type of fat also curbs cravings, boosts mood and brain power, and even reduces suicide rates. Significant gains have been made in understanding how our diets affect mental function, suggesting that the decline in memory and thinking once thought to be a natural consequence of aging is really a natural consequence of poor diet and other health habits. A new supplement even shows promise in turning back the hands of time when it comes to memory.

We also have a better understanding of why our appetites run amok, leading to overeating, uncontrollable cravings, and weight problems. Most importantly there are a wealth of effective solutions for curbing an out-of-control appetite. For example, recent studies from the University of Pennsylvania report it’s the weight of food, not the calorie content, that tells us we’re full. A pound of food, either chocolate or broccoli, will do the trick; however, the high fat and sugar in the chocolate supplies more than 2,000 calories, while an equal weight of broccoli supplies only 127 calories. Working with this new information is as simple as consuming foods that weigh a lot but are low in calories, such as soups, stews, and smoothies.

The New Edition

This edition of Food & Mood has been completely revised to include the latest research. New information on what herbs and supplements are effective is included in each chapter. You’ll also find all-new snack and breakfast ideas, ways to trim fat without sacrificing taste, smart foods and calming foods, an updated Feeling Good Diet, a week’s worth of new menus, fifty new recipes, two new chapters on managing appetite, and much more. Every chapter has been updated to include the latest research on:

• Why you crave carbohydrates, chocolate, ice cream, and salty foods, and how you can satisfy these cravings without sacrificing your waistline or your health (chapters 2 and 3).

• How to naturally fight fatigue (chapter 4).

• How to curb the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and why carbohydrates are not always the best choice for treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD) (chapter 5).

• The natural solution to depression, including new sections on exercise and the omega-3 fatty acids (chapter 6).

• How to manage stress, including new facts on how diet can reduce the effects of the stress hormones, why fish might help reduce hostility and anger, and how stress affects mineral levels in your body (chapter 7).

• Why dieting makes you dumb, why fish really is brain food, and why a new supplement dramatically boosts brain power (chapter 8).

• How food allergies affect sleep, how coffee and alcohol influence insomnia, a new serotonin-boosting supplement and how it affects sleep, why a glass of warm milk might not put you to sleep, and all-new late-night munchies (chapter 9).

• How to manage out-of-control appetites, including how flavor and aroma influence your food choices, why women crave chocolate and men crave steak, self-tests, tips, and suggestions for putting know-how into practice (chapters 10 and 11).

• Why you should take supplements no matter how well you eat, how to choose the best supplement program for you, answers to the most-asked questions on supplements, and the fifteen nutrients you can’t do without (chapter 14).

How to Break the Cycle

The basic premise of this book is that you not only are what you eat, but you also eat what you are. Your food choices have profound effects on your energy level, mood, sleep habits, ability to cope with stress, and more. On the other hand, how you feel is intricately linked to what you choose to eat from one meal to the next. Poor eating habits establish patterns in the brain chemicals that regulate appetite and mood, which set you up for mood swings, food cravings, poor sleep habits, and other emotional problems that are not inherent in your personality.

The commonsense eating habits outlined in this book are a compilation of tried-and-true recommendations and hot-off-the-press findings based on scientific evidence. Rather than putting up with chronic fatigue, erratic moods, sleepless nights, or out-of-control cravings and generally allowing your life to slip through your fingers because you couldn’t muster the energy to live it to the fullest, I hope that reading this book and following the Feeling Good Diet will help you take back your life, your moods, and your energy level by making the first step toward feeling your best for the rest of your life!

Salem, Oregon

March 1999




How Food Affects Your Mood

What a miracle you are!

• With little or no effort, you can remember simple and complicated facts and events, so that by the time you have reached adulthood, you are a rich canvas of experiences, memories, and relationships.

• You can feel a wide array of emotions, from ecstasy and grief to boredom and apathy.

• You can solve problems, untangle puzzles, develop plans, and form opinions.

• You have a unique sense of humor and a one-of-a-kind personality, as well as personal dreams and hopes for the future.

• You are unique in the foods you love, the foods you hate, the foods you crave, and the foods you eat daily. Even how you decide what food satisfies a craving and how you go about soothing that need is peculiar just to you.

At the very foundation of each of these traits, talents, and preferences is an orchestra of cells and chemicals that allow your basic nature to develop and interact with the world. Who you are depends on how well that orchestra, called your nervous system, plays its music.

Getting to Know Your Neurons

The smallest functioning unit of the nervous system is the nerve cell, or neuron. This cell talks to other nerve cells and tissues by relaying electrical messages within the brain and back and forth through the nervous system to the rest of the body. To instinctively pull your hand away from a hot burner on the stove, blink an eye, feel hunger, decide what to eat, prepare a meal, hear a noise and recognize its origin, memorize a song, smell cinnamon and know it’s coming from the bakery down the street, or perform any of the millions of thoughts, feelings, and actions you do every day requires that thousands of your 100 billion nerve cells and an equivalent number of support cells (called glia) communicate efficiently.

The neuron is not your typical cell. Most cells in the body are relatively spherical, but the nerve cell is shaped more like a tree. On one end are its branches, called dendrites, which allow the nerve cell to receive incoming messages from other neurons. These messages are relayed down the trunk of the nerve cell (called the axon), much like voice messages are carried on telephone wires. The axon can vary in length, from a fraction of a millimeter to three feet long (see Illustration 1.1). The messages eventually reach the roots, or axon terminals, of the nerve cell, which bump against dendrites on other nerve cells. Nerve cells don’t touch. Instead they are separated by tiny spaces that flow between the axon terminal of the sending nerve cell and the dendrites of the receiving nerve cell. This tiny space is called the synapse.

In order to relay the message from one nerve cell to the next, the sending nerve cell must find a way to jump the gap, or synapse, to get to the other side. Without some way to transmit messages across this gap, messages would stop at the end of the sending nerve cell, and all processes dependent on the nervous system, from moods to movements, would come to a halt.

To ensure this does not happen, nerve chemicals called neurotransmitters are stored in tiny sacs at the end of the axon terminals. The electrical message (such as a thought or a feeling message) traveling down the axon arrives at the terminal and causes some of these sacs to release their neurotransmitters. These nerve chemicals flow across the synapse, tickle the receiving nerve cell, and keep the message moving from one nerve to another, much like handing the baton to the next runner in a relay race. Once the neurotransmitter has relayed its message, it is broken down or reabsorbed back into the receiving nerve cell’s storage space to be used again. In this way, neurons communicate with each other and send state-of-the-union messages from the body to the brain, and back again. The brain processes this information by sending messages back and forth among its billions of nerve cells and then releasing orders for action to the muscles and organs of the body—all within a split second and with no conscious effort on your part. Every dip or rise in mood, every hunger pang, every thought, every response—in short, who you are—is orchestrated by these nerve cells and their neurotransmitters.

Illustration 1.1 How Our Nerves Communicate

A Symphony of Chemicals

Until recently, scientists had identified only a few chemicals and hormones that regulated body and brain processes, including insulin, adrenalin, noradrenaline, and glucagon. But in the past twenty-five years the chemical story has become considerably more complex with hundreds of newly identified compounds that regulate everything from your mood and what you want to eat to whether or not you experience headaches or develop heart disease.

The participants in this chemical symphony include neuropeptides such as neuropeptide Y (NPY) and galanin; amines; prostaglandins such as the prostacyclines and thromboxanes; the leukotrienes; and numerous hormones, from cholecystokinin (CCK), estrogen, and testosterone to cortisol, prolactin, and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). It is likely these and many other chemicals we’ve discovered recently are just the beginning and that many more compounds will be identified in the future.

At least seventy neurotransmitters have been identified that regulate nerve function, including memory, appetite, mental function, mood, movement, and the wake-sleep cycle. Table 1.1, Some of the Chemicals That Influence When and What You Eat, provides a partial list of these neurotransmitters and other hormonelike compounds along with their effects on appetite. Disruption of even one neurotransmitter dramatically alters nerve cell function and instigates a cascade effect on other neurotransmitters, which can have profound effects on one or more of our physical, emotional, and mental processes. In essence, if an electrical message comes down the axon but there are insufficient amounts of the correct neurotransmitter at the terminal, then the message is not communicated to the next neuron, and the information flow stops. For example, too little of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine results in memory loss, while too little of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine causes depression. Too much of other neurotransmitters can over-communicate a message. For example, excessive amounts of norepinephrine causes the mental disorder called mania.

Table 1.1 Some of the Chemicals That Influence When and What You Eat

To further complicate the symphony, these neurotransmitters are housed in central regions of the brain—such as the hypothalamus—that also regulate reproduction and communicate closely with other brain centers—such as the amygdala—that control emotions. Our food preferences, desires, cravings, and loves are literally hardwired into our basic instincts for survival, safety, and love!

What You Eat Affects How You Feel

What you eat directly and indirectly affects all these nerve chemicals, which in turn influence your moods, energy level, food cravings, stress levels, and sleep habits. For example:

1. Many neurotransmitters are composed of either amino acids—the building blocks of protein obtained from the diet—or a fatlike substance called choline, also obtained from food. When you consume too little of one or more of these dietary building blocks, your body limits production of the neurotransmitter dependent on their availability, and you experience changes in mood, appetite, and thinking. For example, the nerve chemical histamine is built from the amino acid histadine. Histamine is important in regulating alertness; brain energy metabolism; the release of hormones; appetite; and coordination.

2. Vitamins or minerals, such as the B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, selenium, and magnesium, are assembly-line workers in the manufacture of neurotransmitters; some aid neurotransmitter activity, as in the case of iron, and some protect neurotransmitters from damage, as in the case of vitamin E. If your diet does not supply ample amounts of these helpers, neurotransmitters are not made or stored in sufficient amounts, and you feel grumpy or can’t think straight. Correct these deficiencies, and mood and thinking improve.

Illustration 1.2 Food, Mood, and the Blood-Brain Barrier

3. Some neurotransmitters become more or less active depending on dietary intake. Either overconsuming or dramatically restricting a particular food, such as fats or carbohydrates, can trigger imbalances in neurotransmitters that can contribute to depression, irritability, food cravings, mood swings, and thinking problems (see Illustration 1.2, above).

4. Nutrients such as protein, zinc, vitamin B6, iodine, folic acid, and vitamin B12 are essential for the normal development of the nervous system. Insufficient intake of these nutrients from conception through the early years of life results in potentially irreversible damage to the nervous system, thus permanently altering personality, mental function, and behavior.

5. Some food additives, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), and chemicals, such as tyramine (found in aged cheeses), can influence brain activity and result in mood changes, or can interfere with the manufacture or release of neurotransmitters. Other additives can block neurotransmitters so the receiving neuron is unable to understand the message. Still other additives alter the structure of a neurotransmitter, increase your cells’ output of neurotransmitters, or affect the enzymes that normally regulate how much neurotransmitter remains in the gap between nerve cells. Any of these changes can have profound, yet sometimes subtle, effects on your mood and thinking.

The Diet-Made Chemicals: Serotonin, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Acetylcholine

The manufacture of most neurotransmitters is controlled by the brain. But some are directly influenced by what you eat, especially the amino acids (the building blocks for protein). For example, there are five neurotransmitters whose origins can be directly linked to the food we eat. Tryptophan, an amino acid found in meat and milk, is the building block for serotonin, and dopamine and norepinephrine are influenced by the amount of tyrosine in the diet. Histadine intake helps regulate production of histamine, and threonine is the building block for a nerve chemical called glycine. Some fatlike compounds also turn on production of nerve chemicals. For example, eating choline-rich foods boosts acetylcholine production. The levels and activity of these neurotransmitters are sensitive to food intake, and changes in dietary patterns can have profound effects.

Serotonin: General Mood Regulator

The neurotransmitter serotonin performs a variety of functions. High serotonin levels boost your mood, curb your food cravings, increase your pain tolerance, and help you sleep like a baby. Low levels of serotonin result in insomnia, depression, food cravings, increased sensitivity to pain, aggressive behavior, and poor body temperature regulation.

No other neurotransmitter is as strongly linked to your diet as is serotonin. This neurotransmitter is manufactured in the brain from an amino acid called tryptophan, with the help of a variety of nutrients including vitamins B6 and B12, and folic acid. As blood and brain levels of tryptophan rise and fall and as vitamin intake fluctuates between optimal and deficient, so follow serotonin levels. Serotonin levels rise twofold when people take tryptophan supplements, which reduce the time it takes for an insomniac to get to sleep; boost mood in people battling depression; calm people prone to violence; increase tolerance to pain; and help curb carbohydrate cravings. People who take medications—such as fenfluramine, for weight loss—that boost serotonin activity also report improvements in mood and a drop in calorie intake. This serotonin-stimulating drug also increases alertness and sociability and decreases feelings of tiredness and irritability. (A cousin to tryptophan available in supplements is 5-hydroxytryptophan [or 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan (5-HTP)], which improves mood in some people, but whether it is safe or effective for other symptoms of serotonin deficit is unknown.)

From Food to Mood and Back to Food:

Ironically, eating a protein-rich meal lowers brain tryptophan and serotonin levels, and eating a carbohydrate-rich snack has the opposite effects. Tryptophan is a large amino acid that shares an entry gate into the brain with several other large amino acids, such as tyrosine. When you eat a protein-rich meal, you flood the blood with both tryptophan and its competing amino acids, and they fight for entry into the brain. Tryptophan gets crowded out, and only a small amount gets through the blood-brain barrier (the series of membranes, enzymes, and blood vessels that separate the brain from the body and, as a whole, act as the gatekeeper protecting the brain from harmful substances, such as some drugs, radioactive compounds, and disease-causing viruses). (See Illustration 1.2.) As a result, serotonin levels do not rise appreciably after a meal or snack that contains protein, even if that food is high in tryptophan.

From Food to Mood:

In contrast, a carbohydrate-rich meal triggers the release of insulin from the pancreas. This hormone causes most amino acids floating in the blood to be absorbed into the body’s (not the brain’s) cells—all, that is, except tryptophan, which remains in the bloodstream at relatively high levels. With the competition removed, tryptophan can freely enter the brain, causing serotonin levels to rise. The high serotonin levels increase feelings of calmness or drowsiness, improve sleep patterns, increase pain tolerance, and reduce cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods. (See "Diet and Serotonin Levels".)

Dopamine and Norepinephrine: Mood and Energy Elevators

Dopamine and norepinephrine (also called noradrenaline) are manufactured from the amino acid tyrosine with the help of several other nutrients, including folic acid, magnesium, and vitamin B12. When your dopamine and norepinephrine levels drop, you’re more likely to feel depressed, irritable, and be moody; consuming more tyrosine boosts levels of these neurotransmitters and improves mood, alertness, ability to cope with stress, and mental functioning.

Like tryptophan, tyrosine is found in protein-rich foods. Unlike tryptophan, tyrosine levels in the blood and brain rise when a person consumes pure tyrosine or, to a lesser extent, eats a protein-rich meal. The same processes that lower tryptophan levels—that is, high levels of competing amino acids and no insulin—are the very processes that favor tyrosine. Consequently, tyrosine and tryptophan are at odds with one another: For tryptophan/serotonin levels to rise, tyrosine levels must be low; conversely, when tyrosine and its corresponding neurotransmitters are high, tryptophan levels are moderate to low.

This seesaw relationship between tyrosine and tryptophan results in a similar effect on appetite. Eat a carbohydrate-rich breakfast, such as pancakes or waffles, and serotonin levels rise, which will shut off the desire to eat more carbohydrates. At the next meal you’ll be more likely to select a low-carbohydrate, high-protein selection, such as a tuna sandwich with milk, which raises dopamine/ norepinephrine levels. And so we swing back and forth from carbohydrates to proteins throughout the day, in part because of fluctuations in these neurotransmitters. To examine your own mood swings and energy levels, try Quiz 1.1, "What You Eat and How You Feel".

Diet and Serotonin Levels

Different food components have different effects on serotonin.

Sugar (sweets): Triggers quick release of insulin that lowers blood levels of most large amino acids except tryptophan, which remains in the blood and can enter the brain. As a result, serotonin levels rise, but blood-sugar levels also rise and fall dramatically.

Refined starch (white bread, white rice): Triggers release of insulin that lowers blood levels of most large amino acids except tryptophan, which remains in the blood and can enter the brain. As a result, serotonin levels rise, but blood-sugar levels also rise and fall, sometimes to levels too low.

Whole-grain starch (whole wheat brown rice, oatmeal): Triggers a slow, sustained release of insulin that lowers blood levels of most large amino acids except tryptophan, which remains in the blood and can enter the brain. As a result, serotonin levels rise gradually, and blood-sugar levels remain stable, without the rise and fall experienced with sugar or refined grains.

Vitamin B6: Aids in the manufacture of serotonin. A deficiency of this B vitamin reduces serotonin production and affects mood and food cravings.

Estrogen: Might inhibit vitamin B6 status and decrease brain serotonin levels by its effects on neuropeptide Y (NPY).

Tryptophan: Raises blood levels, then brain levels of tryptophan, which increases serotonin production.

Protein: Raises blood levels of all large amino acids. As a result, only small amounts of tryptophan enter the brain, serotonin levels do not rise, and cravings for carbohydrates might increase. A person also might feel energetic and more clearheaded as a result of lowered serotonin levels.

Fat: Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil raise serotonin levels, although how they do this is unclear.

Raising blood levels of tryptophan always increases the manufacture of serotonin in the brain, but raising blood levels of tyrosine increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels only if:

1. The nerve cells are using these neurotransmitters and need more; or

2. Nerve cell numbers are reduced, as in aging.

In the second case, fewer cells are working harder (that is, sending more messages and needing more neurotransmitters) in an attempt to compensate for the dwindling numbers of cells. Tyrosine supplements boost dopamine levels in Parkinson’s disease patients with degeneration of the nerves that produce dopamine.

From Food to Mood:

A building block for tyrosine, the amino acid phenylalanine, is found in the brain in small amounts. Although its structure resembles that of amphetamines, it is unknown whether phenylalanine can affect behavior or curb appetite. However, a few studies show that this amino acid might help curb depression and improve symptoms of attention deficit disorder in adults.

Acetylcholine: The Memory Manager

When it comes to choline, the food-and-mood link is straightforward. Unlike amino acids, which must compete for entry into the brain, the fatlike substance choline has no competitors. The more you consume, the more it makes its way into the brain, where it is converted to a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. This nerve chemical is important in memory and general mental functioning; dwindling acetylcholine levels, which are common with aging, result in memory loss and reduced thinking ability. Choline also might be effective in the treatment of tardive dyskinesia (a nerve disorder characterized by uncontrollable movements), mania, and possibly Alzheimer’s disease. You can boost brain levels of choline by consuming choline-rich foods such as wheat germ and eggs, taking lecithin or choline supplements, and/or taking nicotinamide (a form of the B vitamin niacin), which enhances brain concentrations of choline.

Quiz 1.1 What You Eat and How You Feel

Rate your mood before and after you eat to monitor how your diet might affect even temporary mood and energy levels. Rate each mood between 0 (does not apply) and 5 (strongly applies) before you eat lunch. Then rate yourself again within one hour after eating.

From Food to Mood:

The Survival Chemicals: Neuropeptide Y (NPY), Galanin, and the Endorphins

As we have seen, single nutrients in the diet can make or break your mood. An army of nerve chemicals produced by the appetite-control center in your brain, called the hypothalamus, have the same sort of influence. The nerve cells that regulate sexuality and the group of nerve cells that control eating are in constant communication. When these cells receive messages that fuel stores are threatened (as a consequence of strict dieting or even after an overnight fast), they release an array of appetite-stimulating neurotransmitters, including neuropeptide Y (NPY), galanin, and the endorphins, to perk up our desires to eat. According to Sarah Leibowitz, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Rockefeller University, it is no coincidence that this region of the brain also is the control tower for reproduction. The ability to reproduce, and thus keep our species alive, requires that we maintain well-stocked energy and fat stores.

The Role of Neuropeptide Y (NPY)

NPY—in combination with blood-sugar levels, serotonin, noradrenaline, and another nerve chemical, called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)—turns on your desire for carbohydrate-rich foods. In essence, as NPY levels go up, so do your cravings for sweets. The link is clear. Inject NPY into the hypothalamuses of animals, and they start munching grains and sweets and ignoring fatty foods; the higher their NPY levels, the more they enjoy their carbs, while their carbohydrate cravings dwindle as NPY levels decrease. A quick-weight-loss diet is likely to send NPY levels soaring, so don’t be surprised after starting such an eating plan if you are soon battling uncontrollable food cravings.

NPY jump-starts the eating cycle in the morning. Sugar stores (glycogen) in the muscles and liver are drained during the night as we sleep; waning blood-sugar levels send a message to the brain to release NPY. This neurotransmitter subtly convinces us to eat waffles, pancakes, toast, jelly, doughnuts, and other carbohydrate-rich foods for breakfast.

Stress also triggers NPY production. In this case, a stress hormone, corticosterone from the adrenal gland, triggers NPY production and activity. Elevated NPY levels also are found in obese people, suggesting that this nerve chemical might contribute to excessive food intake and weight problems.

From Mood to Food:

From Mood to Food:

Galanin at a Glance

A different set of nerve chemicals from the hypothalamus often influences whether and when you want fatty foods. These neurotransmitters include galanin and the endorphins. As galanin levels rise, so does your desire to eat foods that contain fat, such as salad dressing, chocolate, meat, or potato chips. Quite simply, the more galanin your hypothalamus produces, the more fat you eat.

What causes galanin to be released? The breakdown of body fat, which occurs during dieting or when several hours have passed between meals, releases fat fragments (called free fatty acids) into the blood that travel to the hypothalamus in the brain and trigger the release of galanin. Elevated galanin levels, in turn, trigger cravings for fat-containing foods, from ice cream to a hamburger. Reproductive hormones such as estrogen, the stress hormones including cortisol, elevated insulin levels, and possibly the endorphins also turn on galanin, while the neurotransmitter dopamine might turn off galanin release. This can explain the cravings that often accompany premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in women, which occur when estrogen levels fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle.

From Mood to Food:

Galanin works in concert with other neurotransmitters, such as the endorphins and serotonin, and might have a slight stimulating effect on your carbohydrate intake. In addition to increasing our cravings for fat, galanin affects how much of that dietary fat is stored as body fat—again.

As you might imagine, NPY and galanin levels fluctuate during the day. While NPY levels are high in the morning, galanin levels begin to rise by early afternoon and peak in the evening. The NPY-induced desire for carbohydrates provides quick-energy fuel in the morning, and the galanin-induced desire for fattier foods later in the day is possibly the body’s attempt to store longer-term energy

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