Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is your food ruining your mood?

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Image from pixabay

I fell down a scary nutrition rabbit hole the other day. You know when you’re reading an article and there’s links at the bottom for other news stories? And you know nothing good can come of them but you click them in spite (or maybe because) of that. I finished reading my perfecting innocuous story and then promptly clicked on the link to Food Ingredients that Might be Ruining Your Mood“. It was even worse (better?) than I had hoped and I just can’t resist tearing into it.

  1. White flour

“With no nutritional values attached to it, it stimulates blood to make high glucose content in our body whenever eaten. This causes your mood to swing considerably and makes you petulant with hunger.”

Um, basic lack of human physiology. Your blood doesn’t make glucose. Yes, foods with a high glycemic load can cause spikes in blood sugar. However, there are foods made predominantly from white flour (like pasta) that are actually have relatively low glycemic loads. While some people may experience mood swings resulting from low blood sugar which can occur after the initial spike in blood sugar following a high glycemic meal or snack white flour is not the only culprit and not everyone is affected in this manner. Also, there’s actually nutritional value attached to white flour such as energy, fibre, folate, iron, and selenium.

2.  Food Dye FD&C Red 40

“Studies have demonstrated that this ingredient can cause hypersensitivity in both children and adults.”

There is some limited research that indicates that this dye may cause hypersensitivity in humans. However, there is no reason to believe that it affects mood.

3. Hydrogenated Oils

“These highly processed oils create the unhealthiest form of fat known as trans fat. Our digestive system has to work twice as hard to simply digest these fats causing cholesterol levels in the blood to shoot up. Moreover, it has been proven that the consumption of hydrogenated oils leads to weight gain. Consuming these additives make you moody and create an illusion fog in the brain.”

I’d like to take a moment to point out that the photo used was of bottled oils, presumably canola, sunflower, or soy. This might lead to confusion for some as hydrogenation is a process that turns a liquid oil into a solid. A more fitting image would have been of partially-hydrogenated margarine or a solid shortening.

Your digestive system doesn’t have to work “twice as hard” to digest trans fats because it can’t digest them. The article is, however, correct in stating that consumption of man-made trans fats has a negative impact on your cholesterol. It can cause an increase in LDL while simultaneously decreasing HDL. Trans fat is certainly something we should avoid (aside from the naturally occurring trans fat in animal products such as dairy and meat) but there’s no reason to believe that it affects your mood or causes “brain fog”.

4. Aspartame

“It’s one of the toxic chemicals that have been associated with headaches, weight gain, and seizures which is why you should minimize or avoid its intake at all costs”

There’s actually no good scientific evidence to support the claims made in the article. I’m generally of the mind that a little of the “real thing” is a better choice but that doesn’t mean that aspartame is bad for you or affects your mood in anyway. Just that the “real thing” is likely to be more satisfying.

5. Food Dye FD&C Yellow 5

“It’s proven to cause severe health problems like asthma, nausea, and even mood disorders.”

This dye may cause health problems. However, as with pretty much everything else on this list there’s no indication that it affects mood.

6. Monosodium Glutamate

“Even a small amount of its consumption leads to dizziness, nausea, weakness, and anxiety.”

Many people believe that they’re sensitive to MSG. However, very few people actually are (exact numbers are uncertain as the existence of MSG intolerance is controversial). It’s even less likely that those affected experience any mood altering effects.

7. Sugar

“Consuming foods that include high-sugar content can lead to drastic health problems such as diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, depression, and not to forget the most common: obesity! If your sweet tooth really cannot resist sugary foods, then start off with consuming brown sugar as it’s a lot better than white sugar.”

Consuming too much of anything is bad for you. The same holds true for sugar as for flour (although it’s not as strong on the nutrient front). What I really want to point out here is that brown sugar is not a “lot better” for you than white sugar. It’s pretty much exactly the same thing. Brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses.

The only thing about these foods that will ruin your mood is if you’re a dietitian and read idiotic articles like this.


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Food and mood

Ran into a former classmate the other day and she mentioned her interest in food and mood. That reminded me that I started writing this blog post a couple of months ago and then forgot to complete it. Oops. So… Here we go…
A number of studies have found a link between food and mood. Just like my (now not so recent) post about diet and aggression discussed, food can have an huge impact on your psychological well being. A recent article in the Huffington Post reported on several studies. These studies showed that regularly consuming foods such as commercial baked goods and fast food was linked with increased depression. There may be other factors at play here as unhealthy behaviours tend to go together. For example, someone who consumes an unhealthy diet is probably more likely to be sedentary, smoke, consume alcohol, etc than is someone who consumes a healthy diet.
If food can affect your mood then what’s the best diet for good mental health? Pretty much the same diet as is best for your physical health. That’s a diet that’s high in vegetables and fruits and whole grains and low in processed foods and meat. Some more specific dietary tips that might improve your mood include:
  • Make sure that you’re drinking enough water. Sometimes you may be feeling lethargic because you’re a little dehydrated. A drink of water may help you wake-up and increase your energy.
  • Eat fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines) a couple of times a week (or take an omega-3 supplement). Omega-3s are important for brain function and may help boost your mood, as well as improving your cholesterol profile.
  • Deficiency in vitamin B6, though uncommon, can result in depression. To ensure you’re getting enough B6 consume foods such as, animal protein foods, spinach, potatoes, bananas, salmon, and sunflower seeds.
  • Don’t skip meals! And make sure that you consume protein and a complex carb at every meal. This will help to keep your blood sugar steady. Dips in blood sugar can result in weakness and irritability.
  • Do you ever find yourself bingeing on carbs when you’re feeling sad? You could actually be self-medicating. That’s because carbs increase the level of serotonin in your brain which is a mood booster. The problem is that simple carbs (like white bread) will ultimately lead to a crash later leaving you feeling even lower than when you began eating. Instead of gorging on cookies, try having a sweet potato or whole grain crackers with peanut butter.
  • Low B12 and low folate levels have been found in many studies of depressed patients. This doesn’t mean that lack of these vitamins are the cause of their depression but there’s no harm in making sure that you’re getting enough of these vitamins. B12 is only found in animal foods like meats, yoghurt, cheese and fortified breakfast cereals. Folate is found in leafy green vegetables (think spinach, asparagus, kale, and broccoli), legumes, oranges, and enriched cereals.