Your Low-Carb Diet Might Be Bumming You Out, Here's Why
Guys, I’m really excited to have a guest for this week’s blog post.
My friend Katie is a brilliant holistic nutritionist who specializes in working with moms and optimizing nutrition for mental wellness. I’ve been wanting to write a post about the relationship between low-carb diets and depression and why we need carbs to feel our absolute best, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to say it as well as Katie could, so I asked her to come over here and share her superpowers with us!
I hope you enjoy this one, learn a ton, and keep up with Katie on Instagram.
I am Katie, a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, mom to 11-month old Jacob, and unabashed lover of carbohydrates. I am here to elevate your mood by giving you the freedom to feel REALLY good about eating carbs.
(Did we just become best friends?)
My practice is geared toward moms struggling with stress, depression and anxiety. I run Mood Food for Mama programs that teach moms how to choose foods that directly support their mental wellness. These programs encourage moms to be whole, healthy people who work, have hobbies, and spend time with their kids, families and friends. That means getting Mood Food on the table quickly and easily and not letting meals become another stressor.
One of the trends I see from so many moms is the low-carb, paleo, keto-style diet. Women are promised a quick weight loss and the moral high ground of existing without a major macronutrient. Women are unbelievably vulnerable to fad diets and quick fixes because we have been fed generations of messages about the status that comes from being thin and hungry.
Unfortunately, the carb-free lifestyle comes with a heavy side effect for our mental wellness.
A low carb diet can result in blood sugar fluctuations, or even consistently low blood sugar, which is a huge trigger for anxiety and depression that can also lead to significant binge and/or restrictive eating patterns. More than that, though, a reduction in carbohydrates can lead to a reduction of serotonin in our bodies.
What is serotonin?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is primarily responsible for mood stability. It is also linked to sleep, memory, appetite, digestion and sexual function. Many common antidepressants work to increase the serotonin levels in the brain, but there are lots of natural ways to boost this level as well.
(*NOTE: I would never take a client off of a medication and you should always refer to your doctor when making choices about medications. There is a time and a place for medication and it can be extremely helpful when dosed and monitored well.)
How can I get serotonin from food?
Most information about food and mental health focuses on protein because the amino acid tryptophan present in many proteins is a precursor to serotonin. I definitely agree with this. Including lots of turkey, eggs, fish, chicken, tofu, nuts and seeds in your diet is hugely beneficial for mental wellness. But it’s not the end of the story.
We need the nutrients from protein to build serotonin in the gut, but we need carbohydrates to make the serotonin accessible. Carbohydrates release insulin into the blood which is necessary for amino acid absorption. To get a serotonin boost, it is ideal to mix carbohydrates with your tryptophan foods.
What happens if I don’t eat carbs?
Skipping your carbs means asking your body to function with less than it needs. Think about your car. It needs gas, oil, a battery, an engine, etc. If you decided to stop putting gas in your car and just hope that the other elements keep it running, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
Skipping out on carbs also means skipping out on fibre, which is a carbohydrate. Fibre is so helpful for mental wellness and a major part of the Mood Food for Mama meal plans I create for my program participants and clients.
Since fibre feeds the healthy microbes in the gut, the gut is able to do its job, part of which is facilitating a great workspace for the creation of serotonin. Up to 90% of this happy chemical is made in the gut, so an unhealthy gut leads to decreased production and is connected to low mood, anxiety, poor sleep and other psychiatric disruptions.
So, I should eat pizza and donuts tonight?
Hey, if that’s what floats your boat tonight, you do you, Mama. But generally speaking, we always want to focus on the quality of the food we’re eating. It is almost always more important to think about what goes into your body rather than how much. The more goodness we put into our bodies, the less work they have to do to clean up.
My go-to Mood Food carb line-up
Morning smoothie with raspberries, greens, chia seeds and flaxseed
Whole rolled oatmeal with nuts, seeds and blueberries
Starchy vegetables including sweet potato, squash, beets and carrots, etc.
Less starchy vegetables like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, green beans, etc.
Fruit with edible seeds and/or skin like apples, berries, pears, etc.
Nuts & seeds
To learn more about how to use food to elevate your mood and reduce your stress and anxiety, visit Talking Tree Wellness and sign up for the upcoming FREE Mood Food for Mama Spring Challenge starting April 8th, 2019.