Friday, February 10, 2012

Boosting Your Mood with Food

Turning the calendar to February always creates an urgent longing for spring, with just enough sunny, blue skies to tease us into thinking the first tender harvest is not far away. But for those of us not living in the sunbelt, we’re destined to a few more months of mostly gray days.

And gray days sometimes get us down.

But, there’s hope for the winter doldrums, and your cure is as close as your refrigerator and pantry. Your eating habits—both what and how you eat—can significantly impact your mood.

First, try to eat regularly—at least every three to four hours—to provide your body and brain with the fuel to keep you smart and energetic from morning ‘til night. Skipping meals is a sure-fire way to make you unusually irritable and short tempered. Believe us—we know from experience.

Second, for the optimum mood-boosting effect, create meals and snacks that combine good quality sources of fiber, proteins and fats. This isn’t as hard as you think. It can be as simple as a peanut butter (or our favorite—hazelnut butter!) sandwich on whole wheat bread. For more ideas on healthy snack combinations, click here. 

Third, nutrition science shows us certain nutrients in foods—like B vitamins, Vitamin C and calcium, to name a few—actually have the ability to improve our mood. So, if these last weeks of winter have you a little down in the dumps, skip the pharmacy and head to your local grocer or farmer’s market (if you’re that luck!), with this grocery list in hand. 

The following 10 foods are proven mood-boosters:

Clams, Oysters & Mussels
These shellfish are rich sources of vitamin B12, zinc, iodine, and selenium, all of which help balance your mood and keep your thyroid—your body's thermostat and mood regulator—on the right track. Steam shellfish with a little olive oil, garlic and white wine and toss with whole wheat pasta for super mood-boosting dinner.

Spinach, Kale & Swiss Chard
These leafy greens are packed with magnesium and folate, both of which help boost energy and reduce depression. Baked kale chips are one of our favorite snacks! Try making your own: Drizzle de-stemmed kale with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt. Bake until the edges brown but are not burnt, about 10 to 15 minutes. 


Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is calcium-rich, and calcium helps your body release those feel-good neurotransmitters that reduce anxiety and irritability. Even more, Greek yogurt is rich in probiotics, which keep your digestive system running properly—a sure mood booster. Smash an avocado with Greek yogurt, hot sauce and fresh lime juice for a nutrient-packed dip for veggies or topping for tacos.

Whole Grains
Whole grains—like oatmeal, whole grain breads and pastas, brown rice, and quinoa—are great source of selenium, which prevents oxidative stress in the body and helps to reduce the risk of depression. Substitute whole grains for refined and processed grains in all of your favorite recipes.

Chicken and Turkey
Poultry is rich in tryptophan—an essential amino acid that helps our brains produce serotonin, a calming and relaxing neurotransmitter. Roast a whole turkey breast on Sunday to add to your sandwiches all week long.

Oranges, Tomatoes and other Vitamin C-rich fruits
Vitamin C—found in fruits like oranges and tomatoes—helps to reduce feelings of stress. Make a delicious citrus salad by tossing orange slices and toasted pistachios with fresh greens dressed with balsamic vinegar, orange zest and a little extra virgin olive oil. 

Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids—like salmon—act as an anti-inflammatory, improving mood and reducing the risk of depression. Out of salmon season, try making salmon cakes. Toss canned or fresh, cubed salmon with a beaten egg, bread crumbs, herbs and seasonings. Pan-fry the cakes in extra virgin olive oil until crispy. Great on a sandwich or with a salad. 

Nuts are also rich in omega-3 fats and vitamin E, both of which combat stress. Toss a mix of nuts with dried fruit and dark chocolate chips for a quick and energy-boosting trail mix.

Potatoes and sweet potatoes
Carbohydrate-rich foods—like potatoes—also release serotonin. Make baked sweet potato fries by tossing wedges of sweet potatoes with extra virgin olive oil and herbs or spices. Roast in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until wedges are caramelized and cooked through. 

Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate releases endorphins—the ‘feel good’ chemicals—in our brain. One ounce of good quality chocolate—containing at least 70% cocoa—a day can lift any dark mood! 

Finally, research shows Vitamin D may help reduce symptoms of PMS, seasonal affective disorder and other mood disorders. Try to get at least 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D a day. While Vitamin D is found in fatty fish—like salmon, tuna, and mackerel—liver, cheese, egg yolks, fortified cereals and milk, most of us living in gray climates will need to take a Vitamin D supplement. Please be sure to ask your physician or Registered Dietitian for questions about your Vitamin D requirements.

Follow this ‘prescription’ for boosting your mood in times of stress, or during these last gray days of winter. And if you don’t have a sunny outlook on life after following these tips, at least you’ll be practicing healthy eating habits. 

That’s bound to improve your mood.

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