Of all the bad-mood triggers out there, hunger can be one of the biggest and worst culprits. This is because our brains require a great deal of nutrients from the foods we eat, and when your blood sugar level drops (either due to skipping meals or frank starvation), certain hormones and mood-controlling areas of the brain may be affected. Let hunger go on for too long and you’ll inevitably experience that emotion where hungry and angry collide in a perfect storm – the dreaded hangry. Also known as the time you mistook the mailman for a walking sandwich. Or that time you felt like you’d do anything, anything for a chocolate chip cookie.
Now of course, avoiding hungry (or hangry) is as simple as smart meal planning and making sure to eat regularly during the day. Remember, skipping meals can quickly lead to a mood slump because your brain needs a continuous source of fuel. Also, the quality of food does make a difference, so be mindful of the types of foods you eat. In fact, research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry has shown that people who feast on refined and processed foods – think white bread, bagels, muffins, candy, sweets, pretzels, chips, pizza, and ice cream – do tend to have a higher risk of mood disorders like depression, anxiety, and hyperactivity when compared to people who stick to a healthier diet filled with clean, whole foods. All this taken into account, there are foods that not only satisfy hunger but can also boost your mood due to their effect on the brain and your hormones, thus leaving you full… and happy!
Salmon and other fatty fish like mackerel, herring, lake trout, and sardines are high in the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which play a role in overall mood, well-being, and also have a protective effect against depression.
Flaxseed is a rich, vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids. A 2006 study at the University of Pittsburgh showed that people with lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had an increased likelihood of mild depression, and thus, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids could help improve mood.
Just as some foods act as stimulants (think coffee and chocolate), others may help calm you down – like turkey. Turkey’s soothing effect comes from its high levels of tyrosine and tryptophan, amino acids that are important for increasing your brain’s levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which are all brain chemicals, aka neurotransmitters, that can help you feel calm and relaxed.
Studies have already shown that nuts can improve your heart health, thanks to their richness in fiber and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Now studies show that almonds could also help your mental health because they’re rich in tyrosine, one of the building blocks for the mood-boosting hormone dopamine.
I see all you chocolate lovers jumping in delight! OK, everyone knows that chocolate is just plain delicious. That little factoid aside, for people who experience cyclic mood swings and irritability – namely women who get their monthly visitor – dark chocolate may offer a bit of relief. This is because dark chocolate can stimulate the brain’s pleasure center and studies show that eating 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate (at least 75 percent cocoa) every day for two months can help reduce stress hormones.
Selenium is an important mineral for immunity and thyroid function. Selenium deficiency can lead to irritability, depression, and thyroid problems that can also affect mood. Thus, one simple way to help keep your body and your thyroid happy is by eating selenium-rich foods like mushrooms, which can help boost mood and support thyroid function.
Foods such as spinach and other dark leafy greens are excellent sources of magnesium and the B vitamin folate. One study by the The National Institute of Health found that people with magnesium deficiency had reduced levels of serotonin, a mood-calming neurotransmitter, and studies show that eating food chockfull of folate may help ward off depression. So the next time you feel in a bit of a funk, try brightening your bad mood and plate with a colorful spinach salad.
Water makes up over two thirds of the human body, and water is crucial to countless body functions, from lubricating your joints and your eyes, to aiding digestion, to flushing out toxins from the body, to keeping your skin supple and youthful. Oh, and one more thing – water also helps keep you sane and mentally sharp. In fact, studies show that even mild dehydration can alter a person’s mood, energy level, and ability to think clearly. So the next time you’re feeling cranky or fuzzy-brained, consider rehydrating with a glass of water and also be sure to drink a healthy dose of water throughout the day.
What are your favorite healthy, mood-boosting foods?