Americans suffer from some of the highest levels of depression and stress in the world. Much of this is caused by our lifestyles: we're constantly juggling several important tasks. There's no reason to let your diet make the problem even worse. Many of the processed foods that we eat contribute to this depression and stress. The good news is that you can reverse this, and choose foods that will improve your mood.
When we feel down, many of us turn to comfort foods, which are often high in sugars and fats. While these foods provide short-term satisfaction, the subsequent crash in blood sugar can make us feel worse later. Instead, opting for healthier options when in a bad mood can naturally elevate the chemicals in our brain that make us feel energized and happy. Here are some tips for rethinking comfort foods:
- Certain kinds of fat can be good for you. Researchers have found that people with diets high in omega-3 fatty acids have lower rates of depression, likely because these fats help with processing in areas of the brain associated with regulating mood and emotions. Omega-3 can be found in salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds.
- Folate is great. Increased amounts of folate in the bloodstream are linked to lowered rates of depression, since your body needs it to produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters. Folate can be found in asparagus, arugula, tomatoes, and beets.
- Eat dark chocolate. Dark chocolate, especially with at least 70% cocoa, lowers the stress hormone cortisol and catecholamines.
- Make sure to follow a diet rich in protein. Protein, including protein from meats, eggs, and nuts, contains an amino acid called tryptophan - the same stuff that makes you sleepy post-Thanksgiving dinner. Tryptophan is needed by your body to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps us feel happy and at-ease.
- Drink some coffee. Some coffee causes an increase in dopamine, which increases energy level and boosts confidence. It also contains antioxidants that are beneficial. However, drinking too much can disrupt your sleep schedule.
- Vitamin C is your friend. Here's another great reason to eat more fruit - the vitamin C that fruits contain have many positive effects on your health, including decreased stress. Studies show that people who were given vitamin C rich foods prior to doing stressful activities have decreased stress responses.
- Keep the Carbs! Many diets involve cutting down on carb intake. However, researchers speculate that carbs help your body produce the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. Ever wonder why people on diets are so cranky? Because those people are often on low carb diets!
Finally, tying it all together, it's not just about what you eat but also how you eat. Stress causes changes in eating habits, so make sure not to let these habits perpetuate your bad mood!
- Eat regularly, and don't skip meals.
If stress makes you lose your appetite, try eating smaller amounts of food at a time to prevent your energy levels from dropping too much.
- Be a healthy snacker.
If you stress-eat, try eating healthy snacks like almonds, carrots, or soy nuts instead of processed foods.
- Eat balanced meals with lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Research indicates that it is not how much you eat that makes you full, but rather the balance of protein and carbs in your meal. For example, a bag of chips, which is just carbs, won't fill you up like a chicken stir-fry even though it has more calories.