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Good Food for Good Moods

If you’ve been feeling crappy, it’s time to take a good look at your food choices to see how they are affecting your state of being.

Are you craving a lot of sweets or starches? If your blood sugar is a roller-coaster ride from eating too much processed sugar, refined carbohydrates, and artificial ingredients, you are more likely to feel imbalanced and cranky. You’ll also feel off balance if you’ve started a super-restrictive crash diet; your GI tract will be in distress with intense hunger pangs.

Keeping your blood sugar steady and your GI tract running smoothly will do wonders for your overall health and moods. Plus, the key nutrients you get in certain foods can influence your brain’s levels of feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin, GABA, and dopamine. Other critical nutrients can help prevent inflammation in your body so that your blood circulates well to all of your organs.

Here are my basic tips for how to improve your moods with foods, starting now.

Consume Foods Rich in Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid

These two vitamins help to prevent mood disorders, central nervous system disorders, and dementia. The link between higher intakes of folate and a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms crosses cultures, too. A cross-sectional research study by the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Tokyo confirmed this positive association in both Japanese men and women. Folic acid is usually found in beans, greens, and legumes. There are trace amounts of vitamin B12 in fortified nutritional yeast, spirulina, tempeh, blue-green algae, and chlorella as well.

Vitamin B12 is a byproduct of bacteria and was once found in our water supply as well as in the plant foods we eat. Because we now chlorinate our water in municipal areas and because we don’t pick our vegetables from the wild without washing them, it’s much harder to obtain optimal levels of B12 strictly from plant-based food sources. In my opinion, just consume a high-quality vitamin B12 supplement and call it a day!

Eat More Fresh, Organic Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh, organic (and especially locally grown) fruits and vegetables are packed with key nutrients, trace minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that directly contribute to your overall health and mental well-being. In a population-based, cross-sectional study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, researchers found that the consumption of two or more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day was associated with an 11 percent higher likelihood of good overall functional health. People who ate the highest amount of fruits and vegetables felt much better about their state of health and well-being.

Choose Selenium-Rich Foods

Selenium is a mineral that acts as an antioxidant in the body. What do antioxidants have to do with feeling better and minimizing bad moods? New research suggests that the presence of oxidative stress in the brain is associated with some cases of mild to moderate depression. One nested, case-controlled study by the organization Complimentary Therapies in Medicine evaluated the depression scores of elderly people whose daily diet was either supplemented with 200 micrograms of selenium a day or a placebo. The group taking selenium had significant decreases in their depression symptoms.

Where can you find great sources of selenium? Whole grains! By eating several servings a day of whole grains such as oatmeal, whole-grain bread, and brown rice, you can easily get your daily dose. Just be careful if you’re sugar sensitive, as these whole grains can be a hidden source. Other foods rich in selenium include beans, legumes, seeds, and nuts (especially Brazil nuts, which are also excellent for men’s reproductive health and testosterone levels).

Consume Omega-3 Fatty Acid-Rich Foods or Supplements

Several recent studies have suggested that both men and women are at a lower risk of depression symptoms if they eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids seem to have positive effects on depressive conditions, including postpartum depression. Plant foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include hemp seeds, chia seeds, flaxseed, and various forms of microalgae, including marine phytoplankton, ocean algae, spirulina, and chlorella.

Take a Daily Dose of Vitamin D

Does a little time in the sun make you feel better? I know I feel a LOT better emotionally when I get a few minutes of direct sun on my skin every day. The sun’s rays allow our bodies to synthesize and regulate vitamin D. Several correlated research studies from the Medical University of South Carolina showed an association between low serum levels of vitamin D and higher incidences of four mood disorders in women: PMS, seasonal affective disorder, non-specified mood disorder, and major depressive disorder. Very few plant-based foods naturally contain high levels of assimilable vitamin D. I recommend you get your vitamin D from a variety of sources, including short periods of managed, direct sun exposure, natural vitamin D supplements, and fortified foods like whole-grain cereals, breads, organic fruit juices, and nondairy milks made from coconut, hemp, almond, or flax.

Eat Dark Chocolate for the Win

Small amounts of dark chocolate can be a natural mood lifter, with raw cacao (unprocessed beans that are the primary component in chocolate) being the most potent option due to its high concentration of antioxidants and magnesium. Cacao has a powerful effect on your brain endorphins and helps you produce more phenylethylamine (PEA)—one of the brain chemicals that’s released when you’re in love! Not only that, but cacao also seems to have a heart-healthy, anti-clogging effect in our blood vessels. In one study from the Netherlands, Dutchmen who ate one-third of a dark chocolate bar each day had lower levels of blood pressure and lower rates of heart disease. The chocolate also boosted their general sense of emotional well-being.

By eating the right foods and being mindful of your nutrient intake, you can enjoy healthy, delicious meals (I mean, chocolate, hello!) and keep your moods elevated and balanced.

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