If you’re feeling down, sluggish, or unfocused, you may be able to eat your way out of it. Not gorging yourself on potato chips and fast food, but science has proven that what we eat directly affects not only our physical health, but our mental and emotional health too.
Not surprisingly, processed foods (i.e. junk food) can be a real downer, whereas whole foods can make you feel energized and alert. More specifically, different foods stimulate the release of different chemical messengers, so it’s important to be aware of the effects food can carry, and use it to your advantage.
When you want to lift your spirits, try a combination of the following practices:
Eat a Healthy Breakfast: A good breakfast is a great way to start your day out on the right foot, and foods rich in carbohydrates are great energy yielding components to base your breakfast around. Contrary to popular fad diets, carbohydrates are one of the main fuels for our bodies. Just be sure to eat whole-grain carbohydrates, such as old-fashioned or steel-cut oats, whole wheat breads, and sugar-free breakfast cereals. Whole grains are important because they are absorbed slowly and keep your blood sugar levels stable. Swinging blood sugar is a common cause of irritability, so eating a healthy whole grain breakfast is an important way to regulate your mood.
Drink Plenty of Water: Two of the symptoms of dehydration are tiredness and irritability. Keep a bottle of water with you at all times and make sure that you drink water at regular intervals. When you start to feel grumpy or unfocused, take a sip. Tea, coffee and soft drinks are not substitutes for water, but fresh fruits such as grapes and apples can help you stay hydrated.
Green Leafy Vegetables: Leafy greens like spinach, broccoli, kale, and collards are great mood enhancers because they are a good source of folate. Folate deficiency has been linked with depression, and eating several servings of green leafy vegetables everyday can put you on the road to a good and positive outlook on the world. Try throwing frozen greens into your favorite soup, or adding them to your scrambled eggs in the morning.
Fish: Omega-3 fatty acids, the kind of fat found in fish, are good for your heart and your arteries. They have long been recognized for their ability to promote brain health, which can aid in alertness and concentration. Now, scientists have found that they also can combat depression.
Lean Meats: Do you suffer from insomnia and/or depression? Lean meats like chicken, turkey, and pork contain B12, which is proven to fight these debilitating conditions. They also contain amino acids, which give a boost to the brain messengers that help you feel more alert and focused.
Dark Chocolate: Chocolate is a very quick picker upper. It stimulates endorphin production, which make us feel good, contains serotonin, which acts as an natural antidepressant, and contains theobromine, caffeine and other stimulants that boost energy. Chocolate is an easy sell, but make sure to consume the darkest chocolate you can find. The darker the chocolate, the more benefits you will reap.
Baked or Mashed Potatoes: Like chocolate, potatoes contain the mood enhancer serotonin. For best results, eat them baked or mashed.
Nuts: Like green leafy vegetables, nuts and legumes are also a good source of folate. Nuts, legumes, whole grains, and seafood also contain selenium, which has been shown to have an antidepressant effect in research studies. Trail mix is an easy snack to make yourself (so you can save money) and its delicious. Try throwing some pieces of dark chocolate in there too.
Finally, keep in mind that digestion is the process in the body that takes up the most energy so if you need to be alert and energetic, it is best to eat lightly at the meal beforehand so that your body doesn’t give the much wanted focus and energy to digesting it.