Eating for health and happiness
Your body is basically one huge chemical reaction in motion. The components to this reaction are so delicately balanced and in tune with one another, when they become unbalanced, they compensate for it by shutting down or opening up neural transmitters to the brain, where the master control switch is. These transmitters affect everything from our mood to how many times a day we feel like we need to pee. The more you understand about the necessary nutrients and minerals this amazing chemical reaction needs to stay balanced, the easier it is to feed your brain, as well as your body.
Since the brain requires a slow and steady stream of glucose to run optimally, it’s little wonder that sudden swings up and down of its major fuel source will result in changes to the brain’s chemistry. If you eat white bread, fast foods, candy and other processed carbohydrates all day long, your mood will go up and down to match your fluctuating blood sugar levels.
A good diet is hard to achieve on the road, but some simple substitutions and easy snacks may help improve the diet you have. Staying hydrated is the first step to feeling better overall, and is easily achieved within the confines of a truck. Coffee is delicious and does help with alertness, but the effects are short term. Starting your day with an 8oz glass of water, before your morning cup of Joe, will help hydrate your body and extend the benefits of your cup of coffee. Waiting until you feel thirsty to take a drink is a mistake a lot of people make. Your body tells you to drink because it’s dehydrated, and dehydration causes fatigue. A steady intake of fluids, preferably water, is necessary for proper hydration.
Peas, beans, and peanuts are stand-up sources of magnesium, a mineral that plays a core role in your body’s energy production. (It’s involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your system.) A handful of peanuts will give you a lot more benefit than a candy bar, and the caloric intake will actually be used, instead of stored as sugar-fats.
While a regular candy bar may not be the best choice, if you have to have chocolate, choose a quality dark chocolate. It improves the blood flow to the brain and provides an instant boost in concentration and mood. A study led by Professor Ian MacDonald of the University of Nottingham found that consumption of a cocoa drink rich in flavanols, a key ingredient of dark chocolate, boosts blood flow to prominent areas of the brain for two to three hours. Flavanols are not only found in chocolate with a high cocoa content, they are also present in other substances such as red wine, green tea and blueberries.
Calcium helps a person’s brain by causing it to release happiness-inducing neurotransmitters. Greek yogurt has more calcium than milk and more protein than regular yogurt, which makes weight-loss easier. Greek yogurt is a great afternoon snack, because calcium also calms and helps to maintain mental focus, without stimulant properties.
Honey contains kaempferol and quercetin, which helps to prevent depression (and keep your brain healthy) by reducing inflammation in the brain. It won’t send your body into “fat-storage” mode, like regular sugar can, by having less of an impact on blood-sugar levels. Using raw honey as a sweetener alternative also has the unique benefit of helping your body build a natural defense against pollen-borne allergies.
All tomatoes have a substance known as lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant that also fights inflammation in the brain and generally protects it. Olive oil helps to increase the absorption of lycopene. Halved cherry tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with a little salt and pepper are a quick and easy snack that stores well in a zip lock baggie in the cooler or fridge.
Implementing healthy substitutions not only helps feed the brain and body, it makes you more inclined to continue choosing healthier alternatives. Once your body gets used to a steady flow of what it needs, your cravings will change, and you’ll find yourself reaching for unsweetened coconut chunks instead of a Mounds bar.