Lisa Hannam
Lisa Hannam

Snacking My Way to a Better Mood

Too tired to make anything = Pizza. Angry = A bag of chips. Anxious and feeling rushed = Drive-thru. That’s how you’ll know what kind of a mood I’m in, if you know what I’m eating. Sure, after a good workout sesh, I’ll eat the clean, healthy stuff you’d expect a health editor to eat. But after connecting with nutritionist Michelle Vodrazka, an Ottawa-based nutrition coach, sports nutritionist, yoga instructor and personal trainer, I’m thinking that it’s the endorphins I get from fitness that encourage healthy eating.

You see, she says food can affect mood, and vice versa. “We literally are what we eat,” she says. “In order to start feeling happy and relaxed, we need to ensure that the bulk of our diet is make up of whole, unprocessed foods that are nutrient-rich and that we minimize foods that make us anxious, cranky, jittery, tired, depressed, and unfocused.” (ICYMI, Vodrazka is the speaker for the “Food & Mood: The Gut-Brain Connection” session at the canfitpro world fitness expo in Toronto happening August 12 to 14). So to help me stop my vicious cycle, I’ve asked her for a shopping list of foods to improve my mood.

The Sitch – I’m exhausted.
I know – we’re all tired and we’re all busy and we’re all struggling to get the full seven to eight hours of sleep to stay healthy and sane. So I really shouldn’t complain. There are days when I’m just too tired to think about what I want to eat.
Food Fix: Foods that are high in tryptophan (which, if you’re a Seinfeld fan, you know it has sleep-boosting qualities), vitamins B3 and B6 (improves sleep quality), magnesium (muscle relaxant) and melatonin (controls our circadian clock, aka our sleep schedule). Also, a big ALSO, foods and drinks that contain alcohol and caffeine can mess up my sleep schedule, says Vodrazka.
A snack of sunflower seeds (vitamin B6 and B3) is a no brainer. And I find even the chewing motion slows my body down. I, however, did not think of chicken breast (tryptophan) as a snack. But at 284 calories (and thanks to batch cooking for the week), why not?


The Sitch – I’m angry and quick to fly off the handle.
I’m quick to blame others when my mood takes this turn. It was the guy who cut me off on my way to work. How dare so-and-so argue with me on such a minute issue? You get the picture. Vodrazka suggests I might be hungry. “It’s called being ‘hangry’ for a reason.” And (she’s right) I might not be eating enough protein, which indirectly helps with dopamine.
Food Fix: In addition to protein, I should eat foods that are packed with vitamin C (to ease the physical effects of stress), magnesium (to help lower blood pressure), tryptophan (for calmness), L-glutamine (another calming nutrient), and phenylalanine (a dopamine precursor). On a particularly frustrating day, I reached for a green pepper (vitamin C). I sliced it up and just ate it. It reminds me of when I was a kid and I would sneak pieces from the counter when my mom was making dinner. I also decided to make myself a green salad. Much like you would get as a side at a restaurant. No fuss. A bit of balsamic vinegar and organic greens.


The Sitch – I’m anxious and overly nervous.
While I think this mood might be the result of a stressful day at work, Vodrazka suggests it may also be caused by caffeine (it increases stress hormones), sugar and processed carbs (they affect blood sugar), lack of protein (impacts serotonin) and a food intolerance (can cause panic attacks).
Food Fix: I’m to look for foods high in magnesium (relaxation), tryptophan (calming), L-glutamine (precursor to GABA, which helps calm us down, in fact, it is referred to as nature’s valium), B vitamins (low levels linked to depression), omegas (a brain-healthy fat), and vitamin C (helps with stress) to calm me down.
When I’m feeling this way, I really do feel like I deserve a treat. So I have no guilt in grabbing a chocolate bar, especially since the dark kind (70 per cent offers magnesium). It distracts me as I indulge. Another treat is a banana (tryptophan). Despite the fact that it only has 105 calories, it’s a pretty satisfying snack.