The body of clinical research suggests that the most effective way to stabilize mood is to eat a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and limit sugar, fat, and alcohol. Coupled with exercise, this regime will keep levels of endorphins, the brain’s feel-good chemicals, steady.
Feel Good Foods:
- Omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, flaxseed, flaxseed oil and walnuts. The body uses omega-3 fatty acids for building neurotransmitters like serotonin in the brain.
- Tryptophan, found in turkey, soy, red meat and dairy (whey). Tryptophan is important for producing serotonin, which elevates mood.
- Magnesium, found in avocados, nuts and green, leafy vegetables. Magnesium has a calming effect and can be helpful during times of stress.
- Folic acid, found in fruits and green, leafy vegetables. Many studies have linked folic acid to maintaining a positive outlook.
- Vitamin B-12, found in dairy foods, meat, shellfish and fish. Studies have found that those deficient in B-12 may experience lethargy, reduced motivation and sadness.
- Choline found in eggs and soy. Choline is a B complex vitamin and precursor to the brain neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. A lack of choline can cause impairment of memory and concentration.
- Selenium found in Brazil nuts, seafood, lean meat, whole grains, and beans. Researchers have found a positive association with selenium and mood.
- Calcium, found in dairy products, dark leafy greens and legumes. Beyond its bone-building properties, calcium is known to calm nerves when feeling stressed or anxious.
- Vitamin D, from the sun, fortified foods and supplements. Vitamin D increases levels of serotonin in the brain and may help those with seasonal “winter blues.”
Jekyll and Hyde Foods:
These foods can be helpful in moderation but overuse can have negative effects.
- Caffeine from coffee, tea and energy drinks. A small amount of caffeine may help you feel more energized and alert. Too much may backfire, leaving you feeling more stressed and jittery. If you are hooked on the caffeine boost and your body doesn’t get it, withdrawal-like symptoms can lead to irritability and depression. Drinking caffeine after noon can interfere with sleep patterns, leading to further risk of fatigue and depression.
- Simple carbohydrates from breads, sweets or sugary drinks (including alcoholic drinks). Small amounts of these foods can have a calming or uplifting effect from a temporary rise in blood sugar. However the subsequent sugar “crash” can result in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and/or sadness. Instead, eat complex carbohydrates from whole grains or eat protein with simple carbs to slow down their metabolism and reduce sugar spikes.
- Eating breakfast regularly leads to improved mood along with better memory, more energy throughout the day, and feelings of calmness.
- Eating lean protein with every meal will balance the effect of carbohydrates and help keep moods steady and thinking sharp throughout the day.
- If you are trying to lose weight, do it slowly. Cutting too far back on calories and carbohydrates (that boost serotonin levels) can lead to irritability. And if you’re following a low-fat diet, be sure to include plenty of foods rich in omega-3s that can help keep you feeling good.
- Following the Mediterranean diet is a good way to get many of the “feel good” foods listed above. It is also generally regarded as one of best diets for overall health maintenance.
- Resist the urge to eat fast food. While it may be cheap, fast, or just easy to reach for a donut, a bag of chips, or a hamburger, eventually, your mood will pay the price. Fast food often contains many additives and preservatives that can affect mood negatively. Studies have shown that the omega-6 fatty acids often found in fast foods can compete with healthy omega-3 fatty acids and an imbalance between the two can lead to obesity and depression.