Avoid the sugar crash
It’s 3 p.m. and all you want to do is march to the vending machine and grab a bag of chips or a chocolate bar. Sure, you’ll feel good for a while. But then, as your body crashes off that junk food high, you’ll come to regret digging around for that spare change. However, there are foods that you can eat throughout the day that will give you a more natural pick-me-up.
“I want people to be able to put food to work for them so they can enjoy what they eat,” says Susan M. Kleiner, a registered dietitian and author of The Good Mood Diet. “Even the act of eating certain foods can make you feel better and improve your mood, because it makes you feel better and you know you’re helping yourself.”
1. Raw chocolate
When you’re feeling down, believe it or not, eating raw chocolate has the ability to make you feel better, says Samantha Peris, a holistic nutritionist and owner of Nu Roots Nutrition in Canmore, Alta. Raw cacao is high in phenylethylamine (the love chemical) and anandamide (the bliss chemical) as well as theobromine, which give you a pick-me-up without any negative side effects—like what you would experience from coffee.
Peris recommends mixing raw cacao nibs with trail mix or in breakfasts, using the powder form for smoothies, breakfasts and desserts, or trying a raw chocolate bar.
New to raw chocolate? Your local health-food store will be able to help you out.
2. Fruits and vegetables
We all know fruits and veggies are good for us. But who wants a piece of fruit when you hit that afternoon slump? Well, with a little creativity and planning, you can make it work. Try baking kale into chips or yams into fries, dip carrot sticks into hummus or tahini and incorporate all your fruits for the day into a delicious shake.
Fruits and vegetables are high in phytochemicals, which improve the health of our brain cells. “If you reduce the inflammation in your body, you feel better,” says Kleiner. “Everything functions more clearly.”
When it comes to fruit, Kleiner says we should be eating fruits that are high in vitamin C every day, like citrus, berries or kiwis. She also recommends at least one deep orange or red vegetable from the carotinoid family per day, such as carrots and yams; one from the brassica family, like broccoli or cabbage; and one from the allium family, such as garlic, onions or leeks.
Research has shown that depressed people often lack DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid). Peris points to a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry where participants took just a gram of fish oil each day and noticed a 50 percent decrease in symptoms such as anxiety, sleep disorders, unexplained feelings of sadness, suicidal thoughts and decreased sex drive.
“DHA is a very potent anti-inflammatory fat,” adds Kleiner. “It shuts down inflammation in the brain and shuts down inflammation that is about to occur.” Eat about 600 to 1,000 milligrams of DHA and EPA per day. Incorporate oily fishes, like salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel, into your diet. You can also find lower doses of these two marine oils in fortified eggs and milk.
“Milk is one of my favorite feel-great foods,” says Kleiner. Milk contains proteins high in tryptophan, which is a building block in the bloodstream for serotonin in the brain. It’s a source of carbohydrates and vitamin D (low levels have been associated with depression), which is required for the production of serotonin. Milk is also a source of calcium, which has been shown to reduce anxiety.
5. Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts are high in selenium. In fact, they have 2,500 times more than any other nut. Selenium, a powerful antioxidant, has been proven to boost mood and mental performance. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating just one Brazil nut a day provides you with more selenium than your body needs.
Do away with these mood-busting foods
Overall, we should be eating primarily whole foods that come from the earth and haven’t been processed or refined, says Peris. Here’s what you should be avoiding:
• Alcohol in small amounts is a feel-good food, says Kleiner. But too much can bring you down as it is a central nervous system depressant.
• Fried foods, fatty meats and fatty snack foods make you feel full and sluggish, explains Kleiner. In the short term, they put the body into a stress response that causes protein breakdown, which ultimately leads to lower levels of serotonin in the brain.
• Refined sugars and starches are also feel-bad foods.
• Caffeine is a stimulant, but in large doses it has a rebound effect.