Foods and Moods

foods-and-moods-panamaWe’ve all heard the expression “you are what you eat.” So, if you find yourself cranky, tired and even clinically depressed, you may be able to boost your mood by changing what you eat and when you eat.

I am fascinated by the potential for certain foods and simple wellness practices to prevent and treat major medical conditions or diseases. I’ve written for years about the ability of food to protect and boost your mood, though in some cases of depression anti-depressant medications might still be necessary. That said, understanding the relationship between food and mood can help increase the effectiveness of anti-depressant medications, and may also help prevent relapse.

If you find yourself cranky, irritable and quick to snap at friends, family and coworkers, a better eating plan may be just what you need! The following strategies will stabilize your blood sugars and hopefully level out your mood.

Strategies to C0ntrol Blood Sugars

Eat every 4 to 5 hours. Eating consistently throughout the day provides your brain and body with a constant source of fuel. This 4-5 hour eating strategy can dramatically prevent dips in your blood sugar levels. Some people with diagnosed hypoglycemia may need to eat even more.

Limit Refined Carbohydrates to Help Lessen Volatile Blood Sugar Swings

Concentrated sources of sugar like soda, candy, fruit juice, jam and syrup can create radical spikes (and drops) in your blood sugar, which leaves you feeling cranky and tired. And although refined, white starch like white bread, crackers, bagels and rice do not naturally contain sugar compounds, they are metabolized into sugar very quickly and can often create the same effect. Instead include high-quality carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruit, beans, peas, lentils, brown and wild rice and oatmeal.

Incorporate Soluble Fiber

Foods rich in soluble fiber have the ability to slow down the absorption of sugar in your blood and therefore, potentially lessen blood sugar and mood swings. Incorporate oats, brown rice, barley, apples, pears, strawberries, oranges, sweet potatoes, carrots, peas and beans into your diet.

Incorporate Protein with Meals and Snacks (whenever possible)

The addition of protein to a meal will help slow the absorption of carbohydrate in the blood. This can help leave you feeling upbeat and productive for hours after eating. Smart protein choices include poultry, fish, tofu, eggs and low-fat yogurt.

Three Specific Nutrients to Incorporate

Omega-3 Fats

Significant work is being conducted in the area of Omega-3 fatty acids on mental performance. Omega-3 fatty acids are present in the brain at higher levels than any other part of the body. Although this area has not been thoroughly researched, several review papers fully support the Omega-3 use in psychiatry. Of particular interest is the ability of Omega-3 fats to be mood lifting and to help possibly alleviate depression. Certainly a nutrient worth considering, but always speak with your physician before starting with supplements.

Foods rich in Omega-3 fats include: oily fish (salmon, mackerel and sardines), ground flaxseed, canola oil, walnuts and Omega-3 fortified eggs.

Folic Acid and Vitamin B12

Two B vitamins — folate and vitamin B12 — seem to be important for moods. Studies have shown that low blood levels of these vitamins are sometimes related to depression, although no one is exactly sure why. Some scientists believe that these vitamins are used by the body to create seratonin, one of the key neurotransmitters that help normalize mood.

If you suffer from a mood disorder it is important to continue to follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations and you may want to consider taking a multivitamin with appropriate amounts of folate and Vitamin B12 in addition to your antidepressant medications. Of course, eating a diet rich in these nutrients is important for maintaining mood, even if you are not clinically depressed.

Foods rich in folate: fortified whole-grain breakfast cereals, lentils, black-eyed peas, soybeans, oatmeal, mustard greens, beets, broccoli, sunflower seeds, wheat germ and oranges.
Foods rich in Vitamin B12: wild salmon (fresh or canned), fortified whole-grain breakfast cereal, lean beef, cottage cheese, low-fat yogurt, milk (skim, skim plus, 1% reduced-fat) and eggs.

Vitamin D

In the past few years, research has suggested that Vitamin D might help relieve mood disorders because it seems to increase the amounts of serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for moods. In particular, Vitamin D seems to help the type of depression called “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD),” or the winter blues.

Foods rich in vitamin D: fish with bones, fat free and low-fat milk, fortified soy milk and egg yolks. Because vitamin D-rich foods are so limited, it’s often beneficial to take a daily multivitamin which provides 400 IU?

Important Foods


And other dark leafy greens are loaded with the Vitamin B and folate, which has been linked to depression when levels are too low. B vitamins help the brain produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood and behavior.


Turkey’s full of tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to create mood-regulating serotonin and melatonin. Since our bodies don’t produce tryptophan naturally, we must get it from food sources. For a non-poultry vehicle for the amino acid, try pineapple or cottage cheese.


Researchers at the Massachusetts based McLean Hospital found that rats’ moods improved when given an injection of Omega fatty acids Walnuts and ground flaxseeds (they have to be ground for the body to absorb the nutrients) are the best non-animal source of Omega-3s.

Milk/Non-Dairy Milk

Milk products and vitamin-fortified non-dairy products (soy milk, almond milk, etc.) are rich in vitamin D which can increase serotonin production and has been linked to reducing depression in some people. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that Vitamin D alleviated some depressive symptoms.


Like turkey, soy products such as tofu and edamame have high levels of tryptophan. Soybeans also rank low on the glycemic index, meaning they don’t spike energy levels too quickly and won’t cause a mood crash later.


If you’re not a vegetarian, the best way to get a good dose of Omega-3s into your diet is through salmon. Not a fan of salmon? Tuna and herring boast a decent amount of the fatty acids as well.


Protein and fiber-filled legumes like black beans and lentils are also packed with iron, an essential mineral that combats lethargy and gives us energy.


Avocados have many benefits that go along with elevating your spirits. They are high in Vitamin C, antioxidants and healthy fats. (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.) Most of your brain and cells within your body are composed of fat. Saturated fat is the best type of fat, as it makes your body more resistant to the affects of harmful free radicals. A diet low in fat can cause stress, anxiety, depression and frustration.  Using avocados in your diet can help to increase nutrient absorption , such as beta carotene, so eat avocados with your carrots.

@2014 Hillary Sepulveda

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