Eat a Healthy Diet to Feel Better
Try these foods that regulate blood sugar levels and chemicals in the brain to keep depression and mood swings at bay.
Feeling down? What you eat can help lift your spirits. Research has shown that certain foods have the ability to boost mood. Of course, food should never replace medications — if you have been diagnosed with depression, be sure to follow your doctor’s entire treatment plan. In addition, consider incorporating the following foods into your diet. They can help you feel better, regardless of whether you experience depression or simply want to improve your health.
Fit in Fiber to Feel Better
Much of what you eat is converted to blood sugar, says Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, PhD, RD, of Roseville, Calif., a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Your cells use blood sugar for energy. “To keep a stable mood, you want to maintain your blood sugar levels. Eating foods that are slow to digest will help you do that,” says Gazzaniga-Moloo. “Foods that are high in fiber such as beans, oats, brown rice, apples, and other fruits and vegetables are good examples.” High-fiber foods are also an important staple of a healthy diet.
Mix in Protein to Boost Mood
Like fiber, protein can help you to avoid blood sugar crashes. Some good sources of protein are chicken, fish, eggs, seeds and nuts, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese and milk, tofu, and peanut butter. Ideally, you should combine protein and carbohydrates at meals, Gazzaniga-Moloo says: “Often, it’s how we put foods together that makes a difference. Combining protein and carbohydrates can help slow digestion and help you maintain a healthy blood sugar level.”
Skip the Sugars
Avoid concentrated sources of simple sugars, such as soft drinks, fruit juices, jellies and jams, syrups, and candy bars. When you eat these foods, it’s like taking a direct dose of sugar, Gazzaniga-Moloo says. These concentrated sources can cause radical spikes and subsequent drops in your blood sugar levels. The swings in blood sugar can leave you feeling tired and irritable, not to mention that empty calories don’t contribute to a healthy diet — they can cause weight gain, which can make you feel more sluggish.
Go for Fatty Acids
Omega-3s, the essential fatty acids found in walnuts, flaxseed, and coldwater fish, such as salmon, are probably best known for their ability to boost heart health because they’re mild blood thinners. However, omega-3s also have also been shown to help people feel better and should be part of any healthy diet. Most nutritionists recommend eating fish three times a week. Not a fan of fishy taste? You also can et omega-3s from fish oil supplements.
Limit Alcohol and Caffeine
You may think that alcohol makes you feel better, at least when you’re drinking, but alcohol is a depressant and can leave you feeling blue — the opposite of what you want when you’re experiencing depression. Caffeine can also interfere with your mood. “Alcohol and caffeine can interrupt sleep cycles and prevent healthy, effective sleep, which is important for a healthy mood,” Gazzaniga-Moloo says. However, if you drink caffeine, don’t stop abruptly as that might cause headaches and make you more irritable, she warns. Instead, cut back slowly.
Don't Worry, "B" Happy
The B vitamins, including B6, B12, and folic acid, play a role in the production of brain chemicals that regulate mood. Especially if you have depression, be sure to consume foods rich in these vitamins. Good food sources for many B vitamins include shellfish, poultry, eggs, low-fat yogurt, and fortified breakfast cereals. Folic acid in particular is found mostly in leafy greens.
One "D" You Want
Being deficient in vitamin D can also negatively impact your mood, Gazzaniga-Moloo says. This is because vitamin D helps your brain produce mood-boosting chemicals. “The best food sources of vitamin D are fortified dairy products — be sure to choose no-fat or low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt,” suggests Gazzaniga-Moloo. Sunlight is also a good source of vitamin D, but limit your exposure to the sun to avoid skin cancer. Another option: a multivitamin with 400 IU of vitamin D.
Don't Skip Meals
“Eating regularly is a key factor in boosting mood,” Gazzaniga-Moloo says. “Anyone who skips a meal realizes that after a while they start to get edgy. It’s most likely because their blood sugar is dipping.” Never let yourself get too hungry and you’ll avoid mood swings. Ideally, you should eat something healthy every four to five hours to keep your blood sugar stable. Healthy snack choices include a handful of almonds, carrot and celery sticks, or ready-to-eat whole grain cereals.
The Lure of Dark Chocolate
Enjoyed in moderation, dark chocolate can fit into a mood-boosting, healthy diet. Recent studies have shown that dark chocolate lifts mood by increasing serotonin in the brain and helping your immune system, Gazzaniga-Moloo says. Serotonin, a chemical, has been shown to boost mood. A recent study suggests that people tend reach for chocolate when they’re feeling down as a form of self-medication.
Eat Well, Be Happy
There’s no question that what you eat affects how you feel, and a healthy diet helps you feel better. The healthiest diet is one that emphasizes whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables and that includes lean protein and low-fat or no-fat dairy products. Combine a healthy diet with regular exercise, and you will find it helps your mood as well as your body, Gazzaniga-Moloo says.