Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Eat Your Way to a Better Mood

Got the winter blues? Your diet could be the reason. Certain foods are key components in the production of powerful brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine may jog your memory, improve performance, improve sleep and boost your mood. Try these good mood food strategies and notice a better outlook.
  • Limit refined carbohydrates. Refined starches and sugars such as white bread, crackers, bagels and rice, soda, candy, fruit juice, are digested quickly, leading to a dip in energy and rebound hunger a few hours later. They can also create radical spikes (and drops) in your blood sugar, which leave you feeling cranky and tired. High-quality carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruit, legumes, brown or wild rice and oatmeal trigger the release of serotonin which enhances calmness, improves outlook, and may lessen feelings of depression. Foods rich in soluble fiber such as flax seeds, oats, barley, apples, pears, sweet potatoes, peas and beans help slow down the absorption of sugar in your blood, potentially lessening mood swings.
  • Get your B-vitamins. Folate and vitamin B12 may influence mood by playing a role in serotonin production. Studies have shown that low blood levels of these vitamins are sometimes related to depression. Instead of supplements, get naturally balanced B-complex in foods such as fortified whole grain breakfast cereals, lentils, black eyed peas, soybeans, oatmeal, mustard greens, beets, broccoli, sunflower seeds, wheat germ and oranges. Mood boosting foods rich in vitamin B12: shellfish, wild salmon (fresh or canned), fortified whole grain breakfast cereal, lean beef, low-fat dairy, and eggs.
  • Those amazing Omega-3's! Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as oily fish (salmon, Atlantic mackerel and sardines), ground flax seeds, walnuts, canola oil, soy nuts and omega-3 fortified eggs are always the best way to get your nutrients. But an occasional supplement helps, especially if you are trying to reduce calories. For omega-3's, look for supplements that contain 650mg of EPA and DHA combined.
  • Don't forget vitamin D. Although a link between vitamin D and seasonal affective disorder (winter blues) is still speculative, don't discount this sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D may increase levels of serotonin in the brain. Good sources of vitamin D: fish with bones, low-fat milk, fortified soy milk and egg yolks. Because vitamin D rich foods are limited, it may be beneficial to take a daily multivitamin to reach the recently updated goal of 600 International Units. Check with your doctor before starting a dietary supplement.
Be sure to maintain a regular eating pattern. By eating every 4 to 5 hours throughout the day, your brain and body gets a constant source of fuel. This can dramatically prevent dips and spikes in your blood sugar. Limit caffeine since it will also deliver a quick energy surge followed by a crash. Many commercial energy drinks are loaded with added sugar and can be quite calorie-laden. Be sure to drink plenty of water or other unsweetened beverages at regular intervals too, as dehydration and fatigue go hand-in-hand. Improvements in your mood may take a few weeks....but you are guaranteed to feel better!

Sari Greaves, RD CDN

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