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Mood Boosting Foods

Food is a powerful drug. Researchers have discovered that foods high in carbohydrates help increase levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Higher levels of serotonin help reduce anxiety and increase a feeling of well being.

When serotonin levels drop, we get cranky and irritable, leading many people to unintentionally self-medicate with higher carb foods. There's a problem with that. If the food you eat is full of simple sugary carbs, it can cause your blood sugar levels to spike and then drop low again. This can leave you feeling just as upset as when you started. So to compensate, you get more sugary junk food and the spiral continues.

The ideal solution is to eat foods that improve mood and are also reasonably healthy. Here are a few options.

When you're in a bad mood or feeling a little irritable, oatmeal is a great stabilizer. Because of all the soluble fiber, it moderates blood sugar levels by slowing sugar absorption into the blood. Choose the brands that have no sugar added. If you want the convenience of the small packets with different flavors, read the nutrition label and buy the ones with 2 grams or less of sugar per serving. If you want to sweeten it naturally, try topping it with antioxidant-rich blueberries and a couple dashes of metabolism-boosting cinnamon.

If you don't like oatmeal, look for whole-grain carbohydrates. Whole grain rice, breads or pastas are great. When choosing between similar options, go for the one that has more fiber.

Another mood elevator is salmon. The high levels of vitamin D are believed to increase serotonin levels. One of the primary ways we get vitamin D is through sunshine, but during the winter months, that exposure is significantly reduced. Make up for it by occasionally adding salmon to your diet. Substitute salmon for the tuna in a tuna fish salad, sandwich or casserole.

A word of caution here. Women who are pregnant or nursing should limit their consumption of salmon to avoid potentially low levels of mercury and other contaminants.

Eat your lentils to help avoid the blues. Low levels of folate have been linked to depression. By eating just one cup of lentils a day, you get more than 90% of your recommended daily allowance of folic acid. Like oatmeal, lentils also contain high levels of protein and fiber, so they also help to stabilize blood sugar.

Keep a jar of trail mix. Use unsalted, dry roasted almonds, Brazil nuts and walnuts. Skip the chocolate but mix in raisins, dates or dried unsweetened apricots. Leave a shot glass in the jar.

When you've got a craving, scoop up a one-shot glass serving. Your body gets a nice dose of protein and the calcium in the almonds is another natural mood stabilizer.

If you want to indulge, a small piece of dark chocolate is something very special. It starts with the initial taste of sweet and slightly bitter. The sugar (a carbohydrate) helps release serotonin. Then there are some alkaloids identified in chocolate that may also raise serotonin levels. The fat helps with an endorphin release. Endorphins are our body's natural opiate-like chemicals that make us feel happy or even euphoric. Add the caffeine in chocolate for a temporary stimulant effect and you have the perfect food for "optimal brain happiness."

Of course, it's important to practice restraint. Limit yourself to no more than one chocolate indulgence a day and restrict the serving size. A single serving of chocolate shouldn't be larger than half the size of your palm.

Be warned. The effect of food on our moods is temporary, generally lasting from 2-4 hours. Eating healthier options is always a good start, but you should also take steps to deal with the underlying cause of the emotional eating. Don't use food to stuff and suppress; find ways to deal with and defeat those negative feelings.

Mood Chart
Mood and Exercise Chart
(c) 2009 WeBeFit.com

If you want to track your mood and see if it's improving or not, we've prepared this chart to help you out.

It's simple. Use one sheet per month. Find the date, write the day of the week beside it, then what exercise you did and how long it took. Mark underneath the happy/sad faces what your mood was in the morning (M) and evening (E).

Over time you may see patterns emerge. Notice the days you're feeling better and see what steps you're taking to feel that way.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.

Updated 12/17/2011