The foods you eat can directly affect your energy level, your mood, and your physical health in general. In fact, some studies show a link between poor nutrition and decreased mental health. For example, high intake of refined sugar and processed foods, and low intake of fish, fruits and vegetables can increase the risk for depression.
As the care manager for an 80-year woman named Joan, I often discussed meals and snacks that were nutritious and might help to ease the anxiety and depression she sometimes experienced during the isolation of the pandemic. Joan’s appetite had decreased as she aged, so it was especially important for her to eat healthy foods and not fill up on junk.
“I don’t have diabetes, so I don’t know why I shouldn’t eat donuts or pastry for breakfast,” Joan said when we talked about her diet. “I’ve been doing that for months now, since I can’t go out for breakfast anymore with the ladies.” Joan and her ladies’ group from church used to meet up for breakfast 2 – 3 times a week prior to the pandemic.
“But do you find that you feel a crash later on in the morning after you eat a donut?” I asked. “Maybe a little moody? Or like you need a mid-morning nap?”
“Maybe,” Joan admitted. “I do feel tired and even hungrier an hour later. Maybe a little grouchy too. Especially if I skip lunch.”
This wasn’t a surprise, as different foods have different effects on the brain. For example, carbohydrates increase serotonin levels, which can help people feel calmer. Protein-rich foods increase the brain chemicals that help with alertness, and certain fats are essential for proper brain functioning. Conversely, too much fat, salt, sugar, or alcohol not only negatively impact physical health, but mood as well. High sugar intake is also linked to heart disease.
Joan’s habit of consuming high-sugar breakfast foods spiked, then crashed, her blood sugar levels. The same thing happened at lunch when Joan ate a sugar-filled yogurt washed down with a soda.
“If you’re willing to make some changes, let’s try some alternatives,” I suggested.
Joan was agreeable and started with toasted whole grain bread with avocado for breakfast, and a Caesar salad with roasted chicken for lunch. She began to make small changes every day, incorporating more fruits and vegetables in place of the sugary foods she was eating. Sure enough, she felt her mood begin to improve and physically she felt better too. No matter your age, a variety of healthy foods is essential for a healthy mind and body.
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