Saturday, May 18, 2002
M A I N   F E A T U R E


Our mood is a derivative of the food that we eat. There are certain food items that make us more edgy and there are others which help us to increase our resilience in the face of adversity. So, what are the foods that can act as mood elevators? Whatever is good for your health also helps you to be in a positive frame of mind, says Amar Chandel.

DEPRESSION, tension, stress, anxiety, anger, sadness, fitful sleep, mood swings, tantrums Ö. All these are considered to be inevitable consequences of modern living, so much so that having them is not even considered to be much out of the ordinary, at least not till oneís condition becomes alarming. Physical ailments are attended to promptly; not emotional difficulties.


The brave few who do concede that these nasty habits must be eliminated go in for yoga, meditation or counseling. Some try medication too. Over-the-counter drugs worth crores of rupees are consumed. At times the treatment works. Most of the time it does not. Why? Because nearly all of us tend to ignore the root cause. What we conveniently forget is that our mood is a derivative of the food that we eat. There are certain food items that make us more edgy and there are others which help us to increase our resilience in the face of adversity.

That is not any new-age discovery. The connection between what you eat and how you cope with various difficult situations has been known since time immemorial. Just recall the adage "A healthy mind in a healthy body". Since this priceless wisdom is expressed in just a few words we tend to ignore its intrinsic value. The co-relation is so little known that the sufferer just cannot convince himself that there could be so simple a cause for such a plethora of problems. Instead he continues to put his faith in the "kuch nahin hota" maxim.

So, what are the foods that can act as mood elevators? We need not go into the specifics of each item. Suffice it to say that whatever is good for your health also helps you to be in a positive frame of mind. And the foods that are unsuitable for your body make you edgy and prone to over-reaction. In other words, liberal intake of fruit and vegetables enhances your sense of well-being while junk food makes you moody and downcast. The tantrums that some people throw are a result of their faulty food intake. Itís as elementary as that.

A general-interest reader does not have to bother about the technicalities of this subtle connection. It is enough for him to be conscious that somehow, a sluggish liver leaves him downcast and, in fact, affects his entire personality, because the enhanced stress level does not let him develop lasting and satisfying relationships. Sorry, lovers of rich food, but it is an inalienable law of nature that light food makes you feel light and chirpy; heavy food forces you to make a heavy weather of everyday problems.

However, it is extremely difficult to convince an uninitiated person about the direct cause-and-effect relationship between the food and the mood. Even if he does see the connection, it is only half the battle won. Then comes the even harder task of shunning the tempting food items that are harming him so much. You see, overeating or wrong eating is a habit. Just as you get addicted to alcohol or drugs, you also get hooked to your burgers, pizzas or noodles. Eating these in moderation is OK but we pull all stops. When you banish any of these items from your menu you develop withdrawal symptoms. Instead of feeling on top of the world, you feel even more miserable. That puts off most of the experimenters.

"Big deal," most of them whine, "we were told that if we switch from junk food to natural food, our sense of contentment and cheerfulness will increase. Instead, we are feeling down in the dumps more than before. That clearly shows that the advice was bunkum." What they fail to appreciate is that the excessive anger and sadness that they are experiencing are purely temporary phenomena which go away in a matter of a few weeks. Only then does the feeling of serenity emerge. Unfortunately, most of the people give up long before reaching that stage.

Another daunting problem arises in the case of items like coffee, cola, chocolates and tea. Stimulants present in them give one a sudden surge of energy, which makes many believe that these are good for them. What most people do not realise is that this brief high is followed by a long period of lack of vitality, which translates into vague despair, gloominess, melancholy and dejection.

The good news is that once you take the plunge, the going gets progressively easier. Be assured that these sacrifices will yield blessings beyond your wildest imagination. Think of it, you will look better, feel better, live healthier and live longer. Just be constantly aware of the unbelievably heavy price you have to pay for your seemingly harmless binges.

The sooner you reform yourself, the better. Start eating every morsel carefully as if you are taking a medicine and I can assure you, you will never have to use a medicine. If you donít, well, you will have to begin gulping medicines as if you are eating food (unfortunately, even that is not going to cure you at all; drugs will only mask the ill effects of your excesses).

Most of us lay great store by the condition of our heart. Actually, a far more important part is our liver. Perhaps you are aware that this largest organ of human anatomy performs at least 500 different tasks, including the production of over 1,000 enzymes essential for survival. If it is not in good shape, you just cannot have a sense of well-being. Those with a bad liver are prone to be excessively angry, downcast, moody or depressed. Look around and you can find such people spreading bad vibes all around. Since those who have to suffer their tantrums do not know the real cause of their misery, nobody forgives them for their shortcomings.

An angry or sad person can do a lot of harm to himself and those around him. How many people he affects depends upon his station in society. An ordinary person can spread negativity only among a few individuals. But a highly placed person can transmit this misery to millions of people. Keen history students must have noted that all tyrants, including Hitler, Idi Amin and Mussolini, were prone to extreme mood swings. Complete medical records of almost all tyrannical leaders of modern age who led nations to unnecessary wars are available. Shockingly, nearly all of them had bad livers. Countless people had to pay with their lives for the personal ailments of these disturbed men.

Why look outwards for this phenomenon? Experiment on yourself. Whenever you find that you have been exceptionally angry or sad, look dispassionately at the state of your health during the 12 hours preceding this outburst. You will discover that you were most probably suffering from excessive acidity, gas or an upset stomach during this period. It is these digestive difficulties that goaded you to over-react, without your being conscious of this fact. Once you flare up, a vicious cycle starts. Stress aggravates your stomach upset and vice-versa.

According to the Hindu philosophy also, the body and the mind (and the spirit) are not separate entities but one. It is a pity that the effects of your emotional turmoil on your body are well known, but the effects of your bodily difficulties on your mental state are not given due importance.

Nobody can be a fair judge of his own actions. To me, whatever I do ó whether it is rebuking someone unduly harshly or crying over a minor issue - appears perfectly justified. The same holds true of you and everybody else. A self-righteous person convinces himself that his annoyance/despondency is fully rational. He feels wretched that others do not share his point of view and this makes him all the more sullen.

Even if someone concedes that he was not right in reacting the way he did, he simply refuses to acknowledge that it could be the result of something as innocuous as a hearty meal. Only a constant and patient observation of your own mood patterns makes you realise that, one, you do over-react more often than you care to admit and, two, that this is because of your unhealthy eating habits.

Another little-known fact is that fat accumulation is a clear indicator of gathering depression. "But some of my obese friends are so chirpy, jovial and even-tempered", you may counter. My friend, donít go by appearances. Most people tend to mask their inner feelings. That poignant song from the film "Arth", "Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho, kya gham hai jisko chhupa rahe ho Ö" aptly portrays the mental state of a majority of us. In any case, there is no instrument to measure the comparative happiness of various people. One can only perceive oneís own feelings. Just try out the balanced diet therapy for six months and experience the inner peace that dawns on you. If you are still not convinced, just go back to your wayward diet and notice the return of annoyance, irritation, fury, rage and antagonism. That will convert you for life and you will thereafter strive for a genuine smile instead of a cosmetic one.

Donít think even for a second that switching over to healthy food will transform you from a quarrelsome complainer to an ever-contented Buddha. There are many other factors like heredity, childhood experiences and training which make your personality what it is today. It is just that all of these are beyond your control. You cannot do much to change them. But by exercising dietary discipline, you can bring about a sea change in your overall capacity to tackle various ups and downs which come in everybodyís life. First of all, you will not get upset over trifles. Two, your anger or sadness will not be quite as pronounced as it used to be. Three, the frequency of these undesired bouts will decrease. And fourth, you will be able to recover from these blues much faster than you could manage earlier. In short, you will acquire that rare quality called equanimity.

While we are on the subject of natural cheerfulness, let it be added that besides sensible eating, the finest stress buster known to mankind is exercising. Unfortunately, despite doctorsí pleadings, few go beyond a leisurely morning walk. It is better than doing nothing, but it is not really good enough. You have to graduate to a more strenuous workout by and by. Unfortunately, even committed exercise buffs undergo this hard regime only to be able to eat an extra parantha or samosa, thus frittering away on the dining table the gains they made the hard way in the gym. You have to chant the right food and right exercise mantras simultaneously to derive optimum benefits.

Your interest in this article is proof enough that you do care for your health and happiness. As a reward for ingesting this extra-large helping of inedible, bitter truths, let me reward you by sharing with you the secrets of an almost magical exercise that will not only generate eternal happiness but also bring about tear-free slimming:

Stand erect, hands by the side, spine straight, lips pursed, a divine smile on your face. Turn your head first to the left and then to the right in quick succession. Repeat this exercise vigorously at least 10 times whenever someone offers you any mouth-watering dish that contains sugar or fat in it. Go on doing this ultimate yogic kriya till either the dish is removed or your urge to devour it goes away. Here is a toast of wheat grass juice to a healthier, happier you!

For that coveted feel-good sensation, take:

  • Fresh fruit

  • Salads

  • Fresh vegetables

  • Fresh fruit and vegetable Juices

  • Olive oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil

  • High-fibre foods like whole grain cereals and whole pulses

  • Sprouted beans

  • Skimmed milk

  • Curd made out of skimmed milk

  • Cottage cheese made out of skimmed milk

  • Soybean products

  • Clear soup

  • Butter milk

  • Parched wheat, rice, maize, chana and peas

  • Puffed cereals

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Wheat grass juice

  • Plain water


To get rid of the bad mood, go extremely slow on:

  • Tea

  • Coffee

  • Soft drinks

  • Chocolates

  • Hamburgers

  • Pizzas

  • Icecream

  • Refined sugar

  • Potato chips

  • Sweetmeats

  • Items made out of refined flour (maida)

  • Fried foods, gravies, sauces,

  • Hydrogenated oils

  • Red meat

  • Processed meat,and cured or salted meats, including salami etc

  • Egg dishes

  • Alcoholic drinks

  • Breads and biscuits

  • Candies

  • Pickles

  • Butter, lard, ghee, coconut oil, hydrogenated oils

  • MSG additives

  • French fries

  • Croissants, pastry, doughnuts, cookies

  • Butter, mayonnaise

  • Whole milk, cream, cheese (except low-fat), cream cheese

  • Egg yolks

  • Items that are too hot or too cold