Research tells us we are most definitely what we eat. And while it’s true that eating healthy, balanced meals will help keep our blood sugars in check and ward off extra weight, it will also help us manage our moods.
A basic approach to eating for emotional health includes not letting yourself get too hungry between meals (“hangry?” anyone?) and choosing whole, nutrient-dense foods (i.e. lean protein, fresh fruits and veggies) over highly processed and high-sugar foods (i.e. pretty much anything in a box, bag or other package). For example, carb-heavy dishes may taste great in the moment, but just a few hours later, brain fog often sets in and our energy level falls off a cliff.
Here are five of the coaches’ top mood-boosters:
- Salmon (and other wild-caught fatty fish, including mackerel and sardines) is a potent source of omega-3 fats, which have been linked to healthy insulin function, brain health and more restful sleep.
- Dark leafy greens are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can choose. The micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants) they contain play a key role in the body’s ability to produce and regulate “feel good” chemicals, such as serotonin.
- Berries are especially high in antioxidants, which may help offset the physiological effects of stress.
- Tomatoes may help offset depressive symptoms, thanks to their high concentration of the antioxidant lycopene.
- Eggs are a great source of protein (which plays a critical role in balancing mood) and also contain vitamin D and B, which help support the brain and nervous system.
And here are 5 foods to limit or avoid:
- Sugar wreaks havoc on your mood, largely because of the rollercoaster it sets in motion. Blood sugar quickly spikes and then crashes, driving us to eat even more sugar. This vicious cycle negatively affects everything from energy levels and sleep patterns to hormones and neurotransmitters. (Quick side note: Regular soda is packed with sugar, but diet sodas aren’t a good alternative as artificial sweeteners have been linked to mood disorders.)
- Fried foods are typically fried in unhealthy oils that become damaged when heated to high temperatures. Consuming these damaged fats creates inflammation in the body, believed to be a risk factor for mood imbalances.
- Processed oils (i.e. canola, soybean, corn, cottonseed, etc.) have usually been extracted with chemicals, and are high in omega-6 fats. While we need some omega-6 fat in the diet, too much can also lead to excess inflammation in the body (especially if we aren’t getting enough omega-3s).
- Caffeine has the potential to stimulate stress hormones and make you feel more anxious. The exception: green tea, which is high in antioxidants and an amino acid called theanine, which has been linked to positive mood and improved sleep. So, if you tolerate caffeine well, feel free to enjoy your green tea. (Remember, decaf is just as good!)
- Alcohol can make coping with mood imbalances worse. While the occasional adult beverage can be part of a balanced diet, if you struggle with mood issues, consider cutting back or eliminating alcohol from your diet.
Sure, it’s easy to reach for a chocolate bar or glass of wine when you’re feeling stressed, but how about snacking on a few strawberries instead? Your mood (and everyone around you) will thank you.
Yes Health is a low-cost, weight loss and diabetes-prevention program committed to helping everyone live healthier, happier lives.