Good Food for Good Mood

Photo by: @leefromamerica

Photo by: @leefromamerica

What if I told you that we’re going to spend the next little while talking about blood sugar management and how what we consume in a given day makes that blood sugar spike and drop? How excited would you be on a scale of 1-10? Probably about a zero, right?

But what if I told you that we’re going to talk about mood balance, stable energy, and better sleeps? Now you’re listening, right?

A little about me: I’m a Holistic Nutritionist practicing and loving life living in Guelph Ontario.  But before getting into the world of natural health, a few years ago, I started to develop some health problems.  Most of them physical in nature: skin rashes, hair started to fall out in chunks, acne on my face and back, and fatigued and sick all the time.  I would go to doctors only to be told that all my test results were “normal” and that I was okay. But the reality was, I didn’t feeeeel okay. Eventually, I discovered natural medicine and went to go see a Naturopathic Doctor.  Let me tell you, after a couple of months of sticking to a specific diet protocol to strengthen my gut, my physical symptoms started to disappear. But even better, my mood started to change: I was hardly ever cranky pants, and I had energy that was more stable throughout the day with no dips and crashes.  These were all side effects that I didn’t expect, because I had sought help mostly for the hair and skin stuff.  From there, I started to discover the amazing power that food can have on our bodies: both healing and destructive, depending on what we’re putting in it.  I was so fascinated by my own experience and healing journey that I decided to quit my full-time job as a Child and Youth Program Supervisor to pursuit Holistic Nutrition full time.  I absolutely fell in love with the concept that we are not just physical beings and we need to address the mental, emotional and spiritual side as well in the healing process, and that finding the root cause of an issue is key, so that we don’t continue to treat symptoms and patch things up with band aids left right and centre!  And here I am now, as a Holistic Nutritionist, and always always still learning and loving it all!

Let’s Start from the Top

So let’s talk about food. There’s a common notion that we need to eat constantly throughout the day in order to keep our metabolism active.  Well, in my opinion, that doesn’t have to be entirely true. Here’s what we’re going to do: I’m going to tell you about how blood sugar works, and you can make your own conclusions.  Here we go…

Whenever we eat anything throughout the day, blood sugar levels go up, and a few hours later, they go back down again because the food that we consumed is passing through our system.  The cycle continues like this for as many times as we consume anything throughout the day.  Blood sugar is a measure of how much glucose(or sugar) is in our blood due to the consumption of carbohydrate foods(anything from veggies, fruits, to grains, breads, and pastries).  Ps. I promise, this is as sciencey as I’m going to get…just bare with me here!

So let’s imagine that we woke up in the morning and decided to have a nice fresh, blueberry muffin for breakfast.  Because a muffin is predominantly a carbohydrate food, blood sugar levels will increase super quickly after consumption.  As a response to that, the body releases a hormone called insulin.  Insulin’s job is to partner up with all the little glucose guys, and help them to get in to the cells. They want to get into the cells as fast as possible, because ultimately the cells are using that sugar to give us energy!  But in the case of the muffin for breakfast, it was WAY too much sugar in comparison to the other nutrients, so the body freaks out and releases WAY too much insulin to pair up with that glucose and get it out of the blood stream.  The body is in a state of major stress at this point.  So because there was just tons and tons of insulin released, the blood sugar doesn’t gradually go down and enter the cells the way it’s supposed to, but instead, it comes crashing down.  When it crashes down below the level that we need to function, the body once again freaks out and is in a major state of stress again.  

At that point, the body releases a bunch of stress hormones that send a signal to the brain to crave more sugar.  Seems kind of odd, right? But think about it this way: the body is stressed out, as if it’s being attacked by a bear.  The only way it can think of to get the blood sugar back up to normal levels is to send a signal to crave more sugar.  And thus, the cycle continues in this way throughout the day, with constant cravings and loads of internal stress as the body deals with this.  Now think about this: what’s the result on our mood as all of this is happening on the inside? Probably not great, especially during the crashing phase.  And often times, if we’re eating in this way later in the day, it starts to affect our sleep with all of these dips and crashes happening through the night. 

So what are we supposed to do? Obviously stop eating blueberry muffins forever! Totally kidding! I love blueberry muffins! 

The Ideal Plate

The key is to make sure each meal is balanced with appropriate amounts of proteins, healthy fats, fibre from green veggies, and carbohydrates with less of a sugar content(low on the glycemic index).  An ideal plate composition for blood sugar management should consist of:

1/8 protein source: organic chicken, grass-fed beef, fish, nuts and seeds(especially pumpkin seeds), lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, and raw cheeses. ** note: some vegan sources of protein also contain carbohydrates, so we have to be careful with how much we consume. 

1/8 carbohydrates: **and here’s where we’re going to choose the sources with less of an effect on blood sugar as often as possible: sweet potatoes, brown rice, lentil or black bean pasta, whole grain breads(not whole wheat), chickpeas, apples, peaches, cantaloupe, berries(especially blueberries). 

¾ green leafy veggies: **these foods have little to know effect on blood sugar, so you want to load up on these guys: kale(cooked or raw massaged with sea salt and olive oil), romaine lettuce, collard leaves, parsley, cilantro, broccoli, etc. 

1 Tbsp of a healthy oil(or ½ an avocado): **healthy fats in our diet also help to prevent that crash from happening and they keep our cells nice and round and ready to receive the pair of glucose and insulin when they want to enter.  Try pouring a little flax oil, hemp oil, olive oil, or walnut oil over top of your cooked or raw food(you don’t want to cook with these oils because they will go rancid at high temps).  If you are going to be cooking your food, try coconut oil(for 350F or less) or avocado oil for temperatures up to 400F. 

Going back to the Beginning

So, let’s go back to the original question: is it good for our metabolism and our bodies to be constantly eating throughout the day?  Or is it more of a quality over quantity type thing?  I’ll leave that up to you to decide what works for your body.  Think about it this way though: every time we eat, it’s another opportunity for our bodies to release insulin.  There are a lot of health concerns, including diabetes that result from insulin resistance: meaning that our cells just become resistant to the signal and sugar can’t properly get out of the blood stream and into the cells the way it’s supposed to.  So perhaps a minimalist approach to how often we eat is best here. What I do to manage my blood sugar is I make sure that each meal is balanced with proteins, healthy fats and fibre, enough to keep me full and satisfied mentally and physically for at least 4 hours.  When a given meal doesn’t provide that satisfaction for that amount of time, I know that something in that proportion was missing.  Maybe not enough protein. Maybe too little healthy fats.  Either way, I want to make sure that those proportions are balanced for my body’s needs so that my body doesn’t have to keep releasing insulin over and over again, creating more of a potential to become resistant.  Makes sense, right?

Ultimately though, it’s your body and you will learn to listen to the cues it’s giving you.  I’m not here to tell you what to eat and when to eat, but instead, I want to encourage you to listen to the signals your body is giving you.  Did the food I just ate make me feel energized, or drowsy? Do I feel full and satisfied after this meal? Do I have physical symptoms of gas, bloating or constipation when I eat certain foods? Ask yourself and see what works for you.   

Connect with me on Instagram or Facebook @healthybymarjan to get all my healthy and balanced lifestyle tips.  I’m always up to chat about food and health!

Happy eating and living everyone! J

post by: @healthybymarjan