Posted by Nicole on February 6, 2014

Food and Mood, Part One: Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates aren't the dirty word that they used to be. During the early-to-mid 2000's, carbs were seen as the primary cause of weight gain in the Western diet, and there may be some truth to that. While carbs were responsible, the main culprit is, and always has been, the amount of processed food that we eat in the West. Culprits such as white bread and white rice are stripped of the vital germs and nutrients that made these foods a staple in the human diet to begin with. The process is so diminishing that you may have noticed that many on the shelf are “vitamin enriched” or otherwise enhanced to try and replace what's been lost in the bleaching process that gives them their stark white color.

Not all carbs are evil, however. In fact, carbs are responsible for much of the satisfaction that we feel when we eat them, and it goes much deeper than satisfying your sweet tooth or filling your stomach with a loaf of fresh baked bread. There are chemicals involved, and here's how it works.

Why We Love Our Carbs

Carbohydrates, when added to your diet, help to boost the amount of trytophan that are in your bloodstream. Tryptophan creates more serotonin in the brain, which in turn helps you to regulate your mood. While this may sound like a winning formula, it can lead to what's common referred to as “comfort foods”, such as a warm plate of macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and even ice cream. All are high in carbohydrates, and as a result, do actually help you to stabilize your mood. They also expand your waistline.

On the extreme opposite end of the spectrum is the low-to-no carb diet. If you've ever done that diet yourself, or know someone who has, you know that there's a certain mood swing that comes along with any potential weight loss. This is more than just sour grapes over the loss of beloved breads; carbohydrates are actually one of the most efficient enables for trytophan, clearing the path for this chemical to get into your blood, and then your brain from there.

Smarten Up Your Carbs

The smart option is to eat carbs that come from natural sources, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also as important, these foods contain valuable fiber and natural minerals and vitamins which can be more readily metabolized by the body than your average multivitamin supplement. This is why most vitamin supplements actually recommend that they be taken with food; they can bond to the vitamins and minerals already present in that food, and thus be more effective.

Other options present both sensible carbohydrate intake and a great source of protein. Beans and rice, for example, is a dish that's been enjoyed all over the world for thousands of years. The two mix well together to form a nourishing protein, all while providing the carbohydrates that make serotonin production flow smoothly. Smart and sensible carb management can help you to lose weight and feel better, as long as you remember that moderation matters.