Foods to improve your mood

Sandra Ruan Nutrition notes

April 29, 2014

Ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed feeling bleak, uncomfortable or gloomy? The food and drink you consumed the night before may be trashing your mood.

The food on your plate has the power to brighten your mood, ward off weight, help prevent diet-related diseases, heal your muscles and more, as long as you choose the right bites. For instance, have you noticed mood differences after eating a light and refreshing meal consisting of lean meats and vegetables compared to eating a heavy meal smothered in thick sauces and added sugars? Large meals high in saturated fats and added sugars can sometimes cause the feelings of listlessness and bordering on sleep, which may leave someone feeling unproductive and tired for the rest of the day.

Foods high in added sugars and refined flours might elevate blood sugars, provide a low amount of fiber, and increase appetite while decreasing satiety, the feeling of fullness. Research shows keeping blood sugars steady and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract running smoothly may improve mood and energy levels. If blood sugar constantly fluctuates hitting highs and lows from too much sugar and refined flour, an individual is more likely to feel a sudden rush of energy followed by a rapid drop in energy, causing one to feel weak and tired. This is also true when the digestive system is experiencing distress related to the starvation of cells and intense hunger induced by some fad diets, skipping meals or constipation because of inadequate fiber and water from the diet.

Key nutrients influence the levels and production of “happy hormones” such as serotonin, commonly considered to be a promoter of the feelings of well-being and happiness, and play a role in anti-inflammatory processes, which may improve blood circulation to major organs and decrease risks of developing diet-related diseases. Keep in mind that there is no single food guaranteed to make you instantly slender or happy, but there are foods and nutrients that science says benefit your well-being.

Let’s start with folic acid and vitamin B12. These two nutrients are essential in red blood cell production. Red blood cells deliver oxygen to body tissues, thereby enhancing organ function. Foods high in vitamin B12 include meats, poultry, fish, and dairy, whereas folic acid containing foods are beans and leafy greens. An example entrée packed with both nutrients is a salmon (or your choice of fish) burrito. Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12, and burritos are typically tortilla wraps filled with lettuce, black beans or refried beans, and cheese – combine the fish and burrito, and there you have it, nutrient dense super foods on your plate. To make the burrito a healthier option, select whole grain tortilla wraps and spinach leafs versus refined white tortilla wraps and iceberg lettuce.

Next nutrient is selenium, a mineral that acts like an antioxidant in the body. Antioxidants are chemical agents that reduce the body’s amount of free radicals, known to cause cellular damage resulting in oxidative stress. How does this effect happiness and moods? Research suggests that the presence of oxidative stress in the brain is associated with some cases of mild to moderate depression in the elderly population. According to research, the recommended daily allowance for selenium is 55 micrograms a day for men and women. Whole grains are an excellent source of selenium. By eating several servings a day of whole grains such as oatmeal, whole-grain bread, and brown rice, you can easily get 70 micrograms of selenium. Other foods rich in selenium include lean meat, nuts and seeds, seafood, beans and legumes. A benefit to consuming selenium rich foods from seafood sources, such as fish, is that you are also getting an abundant amount of omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids, essential fats that are not made in the human body, that play an important role in assimilating normal metabolism, and may even help stave off depression. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fishes like herring, rainbow trout, salmon, sardines, and tuna. Excellent entrees that provide these types of seafood options are fish platters paired with side dishes of your choice, and my favorite, sushi and sashimi — a Japanese dish that includes an assortment of fish, either chef’s choice or your choice. Sushi is a Japanese food consisting of vinegared jasmine rice combined with seafood (cooked or uncooked), vegetables, seaweed paper, and sometimes fruits. Sushi is prepared with an assortment of fish, high in omega-3 fatty acids, and packed with protein and nutrients. The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults eat fish at least twice weekly, and portions vary during pregnancy.

Lastly to boost your moods, get a daily dose of vitamin D. A few ways to get vitamin D include sun exposure, food and supplements. Researchers say people can manage their moods by getting at least 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D a day — about 30 minutes of sun exposure — but because of the skin cancer risk, there are no official recommendations to catch some rays. To ensure adequate intake of vitamin D, include cheese, egg yolks, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, and mackerel), beef liver, and fortified foods like breakfast cereals, breads, juices and milk in your diet. Talk to your doctor about vitamin D doses appropriate for you.

Sandra Ruan, M.S., is a dietetic intern at Southern Regional Emory Healthcare in Atlanta. She is the daughter of Mei and Yang Ruan, owners of the Golden Run Restaurant in Laurinburg, and sister of Lilly Ruan, owner of Miyako Japanese Restaurant.