Whether you’re experiencing the regular ups and downs of life, a major life trauma, or an ongoing mood disorder, food affects mood, your dietary choices can have a powerful impact on your ability to regulate your moods and smooth out emotional bumps. In a culture that seems to have a pill for everything, it’s easy to overlook the power of dietary choices to improve not only physical well-being, but emotional well being.
Try these “mood foods” to boost your ability to deal with whatever life, not to mention pesky brain chemistry, throws at you.
Lots of Small Meals: Most people eat one or two large meals a day, which leads to fluctuations in blood sugar and brain chemistry throughout the day. Try eating the same number of calories but in six or more mini-meals.
Hint: one way to do this is to eat half of what’s on your plate for a meal and save it to eat as a snack a couple of hours later.
Whole Grains: Whole grains release their store of carbohydrates more gradually than processed grains, keeping your blood sugar and serotonin levels more stable after and between meals; this can positively impact mood and brain functioning.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: These fatty acids are clinically proven to positively impact mood-particularly depression. Eating fish that is rich in omega 3 and/or taking an omega 3 supplement can noticeably relieve depression symptoms.
Oatmeal: Oatmeal and other slow-burning complex carbohydrates impact serotonin levels, which are linked to anxiety. Oatmeal in the morning can be a great choice of breakfast for those who tend toward anxiety.
Protein: If your mood tends to dip after your lunchtime meal, try decreasing your carbohydrates and increasing your protein, for instance by eating a salad with fish or chicken instead of a sandwich. Too many mid-day carbs can make your insulin level spike and then crash which increases symptoms of fatigue and depression. Too many morning carbs, especially if you’re not a morning person or have depressive symptoms, can keep you in your morning slump for longer. Protein can impact norepinephrine and dopamine levels, which are linked to alertness and concentration. Proteins also take longer to break down which helps keep insulin levels even.
Milk: Whey protein is linked to the alleviation of depressive symptoms, so try a big glass of milk when you’re feeling blue.
Folic Acid: Eating foods rich in folic acid, such as spinach and lentils, helps keep serotonin levels stable in your brain, alleviating anxiety and keeping your mood steady.
Water: Not only has chugging a big glass of water in the morning been shown to help you lose weight (as much as a pound per month!), it is also critical for mood regulation and normal brain, organ, and muscle function.
An ongoing or intensive struggle with mood should be assessed by a psychologist and psychiatrist for treatment recommendations. Regardless of your prescribed treatment plan, however, food can be an important factor in keeping your brain chemistry, and therefore mood, on an even keel. Since everyone’s body and brain chemistry are different, it’s important to experiment with dietary choices, paying attention to what you eat and how it makes you feel.