Is the Food on Your Plate Making You Cranky?
YOUR BODY MAY BE GIVING YOU A SIGNAL TO SNACK ON A GOOD CARB
Choose the Right Carbs to Help Elevate Your Moods, Shed Pounds & Feel Great
If your feeling sad, cranky or in the mood to pick a fight you may be experiencing the side effects from restricting carbohydrates (carbs) in your diet. An estimated 17 million Americans suffer with depression and are taking antidepressant medications. Is it possible these individuals need a healthy dose of carbs instead of a Prozac pill? Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may have uncovered the answer. Dr. Judith Wurtman and her research colleagues at MIT have discovered that carbs stimulate the production of a brain chemical called serotonin. This important brain chemical controls appetite, regulates sleep, sensitivity to pain, and keeps us happy.
Antidepressant medications regulate moods by making serotonin levels in the brain active for longer periods of time. However, like all medications, antidepressant medications come with harmful side effects. On the other hand, carbs raise serotonin levels naturally. Wouldn't it make good sense to take advantage of the natural tranquilizing effects of carbs before reaching for a drug?
But here's the catch. In order for carbs to stimulate the production of serotonin, carbs must be eaten with little or no protein. For this reason, a hearty bowl of whole grain cereal or a snack like popcorn will raise serotonin levels. However, a plate of pasta and meatballs (even it is gluten free), or even worse, a low-carb meal like bacon and eggs will actually block the production of serotonin. Isn't that surprising.
It’s no wonder even positive research studies on low-carb diets reveal a significant percentage of low-carb dieters experience irritability and depression. Dr. Wurtman and other researchers at several major universities, confirm low-carb diets are linked to depression. According to Dr. Wurtman, "When you take away the carbohydrates, it's like taking away water from someone hiking in the desert."
On the other hand, when you feed the body good carbs like whole grain breads and cereals, beans and legumes, these foods elevate your mood and help you lose weight. "You have to feed more than your stomach," Wurtman says. "You have to feed your muscles and your brain. To do that, you need to eat the foods nature has provided for your muscles and brain...healthy, whole food carbohydrates. Why? For starters, whole food carbs curb your appetite." Dr. Wurtman explains, "Carbs stimulate the production of serotonin and make this hormone more active in your brain. This action sends a message to your brain signaling your hunger has been satisfied and prevents you from stuffing yourself and stretching your stomach.
The take home message. Our bodies not only require carbs for fuel, it also needs carbs to keep us happy, healthy and trim. The bottom line is, restricting carbs is not a good idea, especially if you’re a female. Researchers have found that restricting carbs may have a greater negative impact on women than men. Women have lower serotonin levels in the brain. Think about this. The next time you’re on edge and crave a piece of bread or a plate of pasta, don’t resist because of some fad diet. The truth is, your body may be giving you a signal to snack on a good carb. I’d like to emphasize the words "good carb." Be sure you reach for a plate of whole food carbs like whole grain cereal, pasta, beans or legumes.
And please don’t be fooled by refined gluten free products that are loaded with sugar. Any refined carbohydrate with or without gluten acts just like sugar inside the body. Refined carbohydrates, aka carbs from hell are problematic; these carbs spike your blood sugar and send it soaring off the chart. Within a short while after eating refined carbs your sugar levels will plummet. Suddenly, you’ll be looking for another quick fix of refined carbs and tacking on unwanted pounds. To prevent this scenario, the next time you’re hungry for some carbs, be sure to reach for some healthy, whole food carbs. But don’t forget to hold back or limit the amount of protein you eat with carbs. Remember, to much protein with carbs blocks the production of serotonin—the feel-good hormone.
Caution: don’t try taking yourself off Prozac or any other antidepressant medication without first consulting your physician. However, before your next doctor’s appointment, pick up a copy of the book Potatoes not Prozac, by Kathleen DesMaisons PhD., and show it to your doctor. I'm "Dr. Good Carb," here to help you make informed health care choices.
Food and Drug Administration, FDA Consumer Magazine, (July-
Lieberman H., Wurtman J. Chew B. (1986). Changes in mood after carbohydrate consumption among obese individuals.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,
-- Dr. James D. Krystosik
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