We often associate the benefits of healthy eating with weight loss, but did you know that the foods you are consuming are also affecting your mood in major ways? It’s not only the types of food we are eating, but our eating habits as well.
Below are five simple ways we can be using food in our daily lives to boost our moods and help develop functional eating habits. They are backed by the latest scientific research to be essential for our overall health and wellbeing.
- Don’t Avoid Carbs
Carbs are our main energy source, without them, our brain and body suffers! Studies link the absence of carbs (as popular with many fad diets) with increased anxiety, fatigue, anger, and feelings of depression. The bliss hormone in the brain, serotonin, is reduced as carb intake is reduced. This makes us irritable, unhappy, and anxious and thus may cause tension in our lives.
So what can we do? Eat carbs! Particularly complex carbs. Complex carbs take longer for our body to digest and are typically high in fiber and other vitamins and minerals. Some examples are green veggies, starchy veggies, whole grains, beans, and lentils.
- Reach for Dark Chocolate
There is a reason why we crave chocolate when we are feeling blue! One ounce of dark chocolate a day that is at least 70% cocoa or cacao can increase endorphins (natural opiates) and serotonin (bliss hormone) levels as well as boost our immune system. It is also rich with antioxidants like reservatrol that help keep our blood flowing smoothly. Additionally, it is known to release the feel-good chemical, dopamine, that has a calming affect on us.
In short: an ounce of dark chocolate can naturally help us feel happier and more calm. But be careful, only an ounce is necessary to reap the benefits and consuming too much is not advised.
- Nuts, Nuts, and More Nuts
Raw nuts have Omega 3 fatty acids which are known to reduce inflammation. When you reduce inflammation, you are also reducing the stress caused by it. Studies on the connection between Omega 3 fatty acids and mood show that they also have the ability to control mood swings and reduce irritability, depression, and insomnia. The nuts with the highest content of Omega 3 fatty acids are: walnuts, butternuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, and pine nuts. Crunch on!
- Limit Sugar
You may have heard this before, but sugar is harmful to us! Our bodies were simply not designed to handle as much sugar as we put into it (about 13-18% of our daily caloric intake). A growing body of research has shown that sugar has an addictive affect on us, triggering the same pleasure center in our brain as cocaine. Sugar is not only addictive, it can also worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety in people prone to the disorders. The “sugar high” followed by a crash can leave us feeling irritable, fatigued, and unfocused.
What we can do is read the ingredients of a product before we buy it. If there is added sugar or sugar alcohol, choose a different product that does not have added sugar. Be careful though, most products that say ‘sugar-free’ or ‘fat-free’ use chemical sugars to replace the flavor lost by removing the sugar or fat.
- Eat Mindfully
This is a relatively new, growing concept and personally one of my favorites. Eating mindfully, in short, is eating with intention and attention. You pay attention to the smells, textures, colors, flavors and sounds of our food. You pay attention to your body and mind while slowly eating your food. How does the food make you feel? Are you enjoying every bite or are you distracted by something?
Eating mindfully gives us a whole new experience with food that is frankly invaluable. Eating with more attention to your food and how it makes you feel releases feel-good hormones that make us feel satisfied easier and reduces the likelihood of binge eating and emotional eating.
*** These suggestions are in no way intended to diagnose or treat any mental health disorder or issue. They are general suggestions supported through public scientific research. If you believe you are suffering from a mental health issue, please see a mental health professional as mental health should be taken very seriously.