What we eat can greatly impact our mood — and we’re not just talking about food guilt from eating copious amounts of disco fries. Low blood sugar, for example, can cause mood swings and depression, while healthy fats can help combat stress and anxiety. Nutritionist Stacy Goldberg and Lexi Sinclair of Savorfull break down exactly which foods will boost our mood and which will cause it to plummet. For better or worse, it looks like there’s now all the more reason to chow down on healthy produce and ditch the processed junk.
Worse: Commercial Baked Goods
Commercial baked goods are full of unhealthy ingredients, including margarine, processed vegetable oils, white flours, refined sugars and a wealth of additives and preservatives. Baked goods often contain trans fats, which greatly increase the risk of coronary heart disease and can change the way that you think. A recent study published by the Journal of Health Psychology found that people who consumed more trans fatty acids had greater difficulty controlling and identifying their emotions and regulating their mood. When people consumed less trans fats, they had better control over their emotions. A 2012 study from the University of California, San Diego also discovered that those who consumed trans fats were more aggressive than those who did not. If your sweet tooth can’t resist a midday treat, ditch the store packaged commercial brands and try making your own at home with healthier ingredients, including whole wheat flour and organic cane sugar.
Better: Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are a great source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that promotes good mood, restful sleep and better concentration. Our bodies do not naturally produce tryptophan, so we must absorb it from whole food sources. Chia seeds are also absorbed slowly into the bloodstream, helping to prevent blood sugar crashes. When consumed, chia seeds absorb 10 to 12 times their weight, increasing fullness and stabilizing mood for hours.
Worse: White Bread
Two of the worst ingredients for your mood are refined carbohydrates and sugars. Highly refined carbohydrates, such as those found in the white flour of baked goods, cause a spike in blood sugar, followed quickly by a large drop. Although you will get a short burst of energy, it will be followed by an energy crash and leave you feeling tired and cranky. Low blood sugar leads to an array of symptoms, including mood swings, depression, headaches, cravings and PMS. Instead, opt for unrefined carbohydrates that are higher in fiber, such as brown rice, beans or vegetables, which will slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream and stabilize mood swings.
Better: Almond Butter
Almonds are high in tyrosine and B vitamin folate, which are essential to building dopamine, a mood-boosting neurotransmitter. Dopamine levels are depleted by stress, making almonds an excellent food to replenish dopamine in particularly stressful times. Almonds also increase serotonin uptake, another mood-enhancing neurotransmitter essential for well-being. Too little serotonin may lead to increased depression. The high levels of protein in almonds keep blood sugar levels stable, preventing hunger and energy crashes throughout the day.
In addition to high sugar, calorie and additive content, soda can also negatively impact your mood. A 2013 study by the American Academy of Neurology involving 250,000 people ages 50 to 71 found that subjects who drank four or more cups of soda per day were 30 percent more likely to develop depression than those who did not drink soda. The effect was largest for those that consumed diet soda, suggesting that the chemicals and artificial sweeteners in diet soda have harmful effects. The study did not find that soda or diet soda cause depression, but the association between soda and depression is certainly notable. Additionally, the extremely high sugar content in regular soda leads to a crash in blood sugar, which can leave you feeling unhappy and irritable for hours.
Avocados are full of healthy fats that help to absorb other nutrients in other food, so you get more nutritional and mood-boosting benefits from the fruits and vegetables you are already eating. Diets that are low in healthy fats are associated with stress, anxiety, depression and frustration. The unsaturated fats found in avocados help combat these negative moods and provide a wealth of antioxidants and healthy vitamins. They are also helpful in increasing and maintaining long-lasting energy levels.
Worse: Milk Chocolate
Although pure cocoa is a mood enhancer, there is not nearly enough cocoa content in milk chocolate to get any of its benefits. In fact, fat and sugar-laden milk chocolate can actually make you feel worse. Many popular brands of milk chocolate contain trans fats from hydrogenated oils, processed sugar or high fructose corn syrup and harmful chemicals and additives. A small bar of milk chocolate will lead to a spike and crash in blood sugar and leave you cranky and craving even more of this fatty and sugary sweet.
Berries contain folate, a vitamin that contributes to the production of serotonin and improves mood while simultaneously protecting against depression. The anthocyanins found in berries protect cells from dangerous free radicals and also protect against stress and increase well-being. Anthocyanins have been linked to decreased inflammation, which subsequently may lead to a decrease in depression. Blueberries and blackberries are the best sources of anthocyanins, but all berries have mood-enhancing effects.