Health

The Connection Between Food and Your Mood

There are so many great things about fall and winter: changing leaves, pumpkin patches, Christmas decorations and family gatherings.

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But as the weather starts to turn cold and dreary, you may experience the winter blues. To help combat those feeling, try eating certain foods known to help boost your mood.

“The foods we eat not only affect our mood, but our sleep patterns and our energy levels,” says psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD. “And that can impact us throughout the entire day.”

How food can affect your mood

Studies have found that the change in seasons often leads to an increase in emotional eating, says Dr. Albers.

“In this study, individuals who feel blue during the winter and fall months, due to the short days, experience an increase in snacking, craving starchy foods and sugary foods, as well as eating more in the evenings,” she says.

Foods to avoid or cut down on during the winter months are:

  • Sugar.
  • Alcohol.
  • Starchy foods.
  • Processed foods.

Foods sweetened with sugar like soda and cookies, as well as flour-based foods like bread, crackers and baked goods might give you a quick energy boost, but their low nutritional value could leave you with low energy and in a down mood later on.

“If you’re someone who loves salty snacks, swap out the chips for spicy roasted chickpeas,” says Dr. Albers. “Not only are those going to give you a great crunch, but they also give you a great boost of nutrients.”

Foods that can boost your mood

There are plenty of foods that affect your mood in a positive way. Ease into it and you’ll see rewards.

“Too often we focus on removing or subtracting foods from our diet,” says Dr. Albers. “Think about additions, trying to add one food a day. Make it a goal to add one of these foods a day and over time, you’re going to see an improvement in your mood.”

Foods high in vitamin D

Work in foods rich in vitamin D like red meat (limit to less than 6 ounces per week), mushrooms, egg yolks, tuna, salmon and sardines. You should also look for items fortified in vitamin D like milk, yogurt and cereal.

“During the winter months, people who have more emotional eating have been shown to have lower levels of vitamin D, which is associated with more anxiety and depression,” says Dr. Albers.

Foods high in vitamin C

Oranges, mangoes, lemons, kiwi, broccoli, bell peppers and strawberries are great options if you’re hoping to increase your vitamin C intake. Vitamin C can help with anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease and depression.

“One of the best things you can do to help your immune system and to boost your mood is to add foods that are high in vitamin C,” says Dr. Albers.

Foods high in protein

Get your protein fill with foods like beef, chicken, turkey and eggs.

“Those foods are linked to higher levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are brain chemicals that play an important role in our mood, our motivation and our concentration,” says Dr. Albers.

Vegan or vegetarian? Opt for chickpeas, lentils or tofu to get that much-needed protein fix.

Sweet potatoes

With comfort-food-laden holiday menus in your future, try subbing out white potatoes for sweet potatoes, which are a good source of vitamin A.

“Sweet potatoes contain fiber, which breaks down really slowly and can help your blood sugar,” says Dr. Albers. “This, in turn, helps to keep your cravings and emotional eating down.”

Sweet potatoes are also rich in magnesium, which has been shown to help lower anxiety levels.

Beets

Beets are a good bet, especially if you’re feeling anxious or stressed.

“Beets can lower your blood sugar,” says Dr. Albers. “Eating beets can also help lower your blood pressure in just a matter of a few hours.”

Walnuts

Get cracking on adding walnuts to your meals. Great for your cognitive function (your memory, attention and language), walnuts can also boost your mood.

A study in which participants were given a handful of walnuts for five days showed a significant reduction in appetite hunger and cravings for starchy and sugary foods.

Cocoa

Warm up with a hot cup of cocoa, says Dr. Albers.

“Not only is it soothing and sweet during the cold winter months,” she says. “But cocoa is also a great source of polyphenols.”

Polyphenols are very potent antioxidants, which help with your mood thanks to their anti-inflammatory effects. Polyphenols have been shown in many studies to boost your concentration levels and your focus.

Regardless of your diet during the winter, don’t be too hard on yourself, says Dr. Albers.

“As the holiday season approaches, move aside dieting. This is often stressful for people and instead focus on mindful eating,” says Dr. Albers. “This is slowing down, being in the moment, enjoying and savoring your food, instead of trying to stay away from certain foods.”

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