Do you feel like stress-eating when having a bad day at school or work? If the answer to the question is yes, you are certainly not alone. People under a lot of stress turn to food to help them deal with difficult situations. Often, we grab a bar of chocolate or cup of ice cream to make us feel better. Food plays an important role in helping improve our mood and overall well-being. Diet and nutrition have been studied and utilized in the prevention and management of depression and related mood disorders.
Key players in regulating our mood are compounds called neurotransmitters. The more important ones include serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and norepinephrine. These chemical messengers regulate our sleep, appetite, and mediate our moods. A delicate balance must be maintained to keep our moods steady. Interestingly, these neurotransmitters are produced in the gastrointestinal tract. This is why what we eat impacts our everyday mood.
It is a known fact that depression affects many individuals. Medical treatment can help with the symptoms, but healthy food choices and proper nutrition can also boost an individual’s mood. Eating certain kinds of food positively affects the way we feel. Here are some dietary strategies we can start on your own to improve our mood:
1. Do not skip meals
Leaving too much time between meals can make us feel irritated. Skipping meals can send our blood sugars low and our energy levels out of proportion. This is due to an increase in our stress hormones, causing us to become more irritable than usual.
Aim to eat 3 meals per day and insert a healthy snack in between to avoid getting “hangry” (hungry-angry). Most importantly, avoid skipping breakfast. Those who did were found to have higher rates of depression, dysthymia, and bipolar disorder.
2. Limit your sugar
To comfort ourselves, we usually turn to chips, candies, ice cream, and other sugary snacks. While these can initially improve our moods, they can be followed by a “crash” once the temporary surge of hormones and energy wears off. Eating too much simple sugars such as those in sodas and candies can increase your risk for mood disorders, including depression.
3. Consume healthy fats
Contrary to popular belief, not all fats are unhealthy. In fact, fats are essential to our nervous system, a key system in modulating our moods. Intake of good fats, especially your omega fatty acids, help support the brain. This leads to a well-regulated production of hormones. Healthy fats also reduce inflammation in the body, which can increase our stress hormones.
Food rich in omega-3-fatty acids includes salmon and nuts. A study has shown that people with a higher intake of these were less likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as better impulse control.
4. Load up on protein
Proteins, when broken down, are the source of amino acids. Amino acids are essential nutrients that are precursors of neurotransmitters that regulate our moods. Low levels of certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin are linked to depression and anxiety. Thus, increasing your protein intake ensures a steady source of neurotransmitter precursors.
Protein-rich food includes your red and white meat, nuts, eggs, and tofu. Get more protein in your diet to avoid mood swings.
5. Eat your greens
Dark, leafy, greens are rich in many vitamins and minerals, especially B vitamins. They are important cofactors in certain processes of the body. A deficiency in B vitamins has been linked to higher levels of stress and risk for depression. A published meta-analysis showed that supplementation with B vitamins improved mood outcomes, depressive symptoms, and responses to stress.
Grab a bunch of kale or spinach and turn them into a B vitamin-filled smoothie! Aside from leafy greens, whole grains such as oats, wheat, and brown rice are also rich in B vitamins.
6. Splurge on chocolate
A generous serving of dark chocolate daily can boost our mood. Chocolate is filled with compounds such as caffeine, theobromine, and flavonoids which have been linked to an improved mood. Dark chocolate also stimulates the production of endorphins, our happy hormones. People who consume chocolate are found to have elevated mood and feelings of content and pleasure.
Chocolate is not only delicious but also lessens negative feelings. Next time you grab a bar, make sure it’s more than 70% cocoa.
Incorporating these mood-boosting measures into our daily life may take effort at first. Aside from the general rules of hydrating ourselves and eating less junk, following the simple tips above can help boost your mood. We do not have to make a drastic change immediately, but slowly choosing these healthy steps will impact your life.
If you are still experiencing bouts of depression and anxiety, you may need to seek guidance. Experts at Mindshift Psychological Services offer Depression Therapy, Psychotherapy For Individuals, and Teletherapy. We will help you learn healthy coping mechanisms and maintain sound mental health.