Are there any foods I should eat to help my mood?
If only there were a “happy” foods list, right?! Guess what--there are no certain foods we should eat to make us happy and it would likely be a different list for each of us anyways. There are of course foods to eat more of to encourage overall health. It is important to eat foods that we enjoy eating and that also make us happy. Maybe it is warm bowl of oatmeal that makes us think of a snowy morning or a fresh apple off the tree that makes us smile to think back on apple picking with siblings. While there is no one food or group of foods that will necessarily help our moods, there is a connection between our nutrition and how we fuel our bodies and our overall wellbeing. Here are a few points to considered when it comes to a mindful or holistic approach to the connection between nutrition and our mood.
If you are a breakfast eater, think about making it balanced. Start your day with some protein (eggs, beans, milk, yogurt, tofu scramble etc.), a whole grain (oatmeal, whole wheat toast, cereal, etc.), and fruit (and/or vegetable). This way you are setting yourself up for a satiating meal to get you through your morning. It takes our bodies longer to digest protein and fiber and keeps us feeling satisfied longer. Often when we grab a quick donut or muffin the size of our heads, we feel hungry soon after and/or feel drowsy come late morning. Having an intentional breakfast can help us prepare for the day and put our minds at ease knowing we are fueling our bodies well to kick off the day.
Striving for a balanced meal at breakfast can overlap into each following meal as well as we continue to combine protein, whole grains and produce into each meal and snack. Proteins contain amino acids, one being tyrosine that has been thought to boost alertness.
Staying hydrated is a way to ensure you are on your ‘A’ game. How much water you need varies on your body size, activity level and weather/humidity. Some research has shown that being even mildly dehydrated can lead to impatience or having a hard time concentrating. Think about how much water you currently drink and whether you might benefit from grabbing a glass of water between meetings or on your way to the store. The color of your urine is a good indicator of your hydration level (the darker the color, the more dehydrated).
Are you truly hungry or are you eating to suppress emotions? Believe it or not, many of us eat because we are bored, sad, angry, or feeling anxious. Food can comfort us and increase our feel-good hormones. Often time those comfort foods or go-to mood boosting foods are low in nutrients and high in calories. Do you use food as a reward? Do you avoid foods as a means of gaining a sense of control? If we can identify triggers or reasons why we eat beyond fueling our bodies, we may then be able to find coping mechanisms that do not involve food. If we are feeling anxious could we go for a walk or read a book? If we are sad could we call a friend? Yes, this is easier said than done. However, the more aware we are about eating for other reasons, the better we can curb that vicious cycle.
These last two we all know…sleep and exercise! The research is solid in that movement and getting enough sleep helps us feel better, look better and eat better. The more sleep deprived we are the more likely we are to crave and reach for less healthful foods. The less we sleep, the more time we have to eat and the more tired we are the less energy we spend in food preparation. And, that’s just skimming the surface. Exercise is a mood booster, helps regulate our metabolism and who doesn’t feel good after a brisk walk or a group exercise class? Movement can look different for everyone!