Chances are you’ve had a ‘bad hair day’ or two in your lifetime, or perhaps experienced the wrath of someone who’s woken up ‘on the wrong side of the bed.’ There are plenty of little things we attribute to our moods throughout the day- good or bad. As it turns out, the food we eat can play a large role in how we feel.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” In order to function at an efficient level, the brain and body need fuel. That fuel comes in the form of food, and has a direct impact on the function and structure of your brain, and ultimately your mood.
Rasa Troup, M.S., R.D, C.S.S.D., licensed registered dietitian with University of Minnesota Health, clues us in to what should be on the menu if the goal is a happy disposition.
“Protein is essential to a good mood,” said Troup.
Foods like fish, lean beef, chicken breast and eggs just to name a few, contain amino acids. These make up the chemicals in your brain that are needed to help regulate your feelings and thoughts, as well as your blood sugar.
Complex carbohydrates will also help prevent blood sugar drops which are associated with irritability and tiredness. They contain vitamins, minerals and fiber. Complex carbohydrates can be found in foods such as peas,beans, pasta, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
“A healthy gut will also result in a happier person,” explained Troup.
The gut is responsible for releasing serotonin which is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, appetite and mood. A healthy gut can reduce anxiety, depression, and perception of stress. Getting more probiotics in your diet can help make your gut happy. Foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, fermented veggies and miso soup are all high in probiotics.
Studies have shown omega-3 fats appear to have anti-depressant properties. They are found in salmon, anchovies, fresh tuna, flax seeds, walnuts and canola oil.
Timing is everything
When you eat can also have an effect on your mood. Eating irregularly can result in drops in blood sugar, causing one to feel tired and irritable. Eating on a more consistent schedule will maintain steady blood sugar levels, and result in a good mood.
Rasa Troup, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., licensed registered dietitian with University of Minnesota Health
As far as what not to eat- “We should focus on how to eat wholesome foods, rather than what to avoid,” explained Troup. “All foods have a place in our diet in moderation. It’s really more about portion control, rather than labeling food as good or bad.”
Troup’s advice: focus on eating food as close to its natural state as possible. The less processed and wholesome, the better.
Does food affect how you feel?
You know that if you eat a sweet snack, such as a candy bar or a sugary donut, you'll get a spike of energy, soon followed by a crashing low. Sugar highs and lows are just one of the many ways food can affect how you feel.
But have you ever considered which eating habits and specific foods might help you to feel happier and more energized? Recent research helps illuminate the role food plays in influencing your mood.
Nutrition strategies for mood maintenance
There's more to mood maintenance than eating the right foods. The framework for good mood hygiene begins with implementing some basic nutrition strategies:
Eat often enough
According to research published by the University of Illinois Extension, eating regular meals and snacks at the same times every day helps keep your blood sugar levels steady. Eating at regular intervals helps to ensure that your body has a continuous source of fuel, and this may assist in keeping your mood stable. If you feel like your blood sugar might be dipping frequently, talk to your doctor. This could be a sign of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is a health condition that causes people to need to eat frequently.
Don’t skip meals
Though it may be tempting to rush out the door without breakfast, the Mayo Clinic says that this is a bad idea. Skipping meals actually makes your body less able to assimilate food, and you are more liable to overeat at the next meal. If you keep yourself from getting too hungry, you may be able to avoid a bad mood.
Know what to avoid
Before you can eat mood-boosting foods, it's important to know which foods to leave off, or limit, on your shopping list. The biggest bad mood culprits are refined carbohydrates, such as sugar. The simple sugars that are in junk foods, such as candy and soda, as well as in everyday foods, such as fruit juice, syrup, and jams, can cause your blood sugar to go up and down like a rollercoaster. Refined white starches such as white rice, white bread, and crackers can have the same effect. The Cleveland Clinic warns that junk foods may satisfy your taste buds, but they probably won’t help your mood.
Blood sugar spikes and drops can leave you with a short-lived burst of energy followed by a tired, cranky feeling. For best mood results, you should also limit alcohol, since it's a depressant and can disturb your sleep.
Foods that will boost your mood
Here are some of the best foods to eat to stay healthy and happy:
Adding protein to your meals can help slow the absorption of carbohydrates in your blood and increase the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, which may improve your mood and energy for several hours after eating. Try adding these smart protein choices to your diet:
- low-fat Greek yogurt
There are a few specific vitamins that may be helpful for mood. For example, vitamin D may help relieve mood disorders, such as seasonal affective disorder. Sunlight, before sunscreen application, is often the best source. To get your daily dose of vitamin D, you can also try the following foods. Many doctors recommend adding a multivitamin that contains vitamin D as well.
- low-fat milk
- egg yolks
The vitamins folate and B-12 may help ease depression. To add folate to your diet, try these foods:
- dark leafy greens
Vitamin B-12 can be found in:
- cottage cheese
- lean beef
Foods, like complex carbohydrates, that contain soluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream and increase serotonin, the “feel good” chemical, both of which decrease mood swings. You can find healthy amounts of fiber in:
- Brussels sprouts
Putting it all together
There's a clear relationship between food and your state of mind. When you combine strategies for eating regularly with foods that may have a positive effect on your well-being, you can plan meals that may help you to feel better. You can also avoid foods that may make you feel worse. Now that's something to be happy about!