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Mood Swings and Diet

By Carolyn Robbins

You probably feel a little guilty when you eat a hamburger, knowing that the meat is bad for your heart. It turns out that diet affects your mental and emotional health, too. Diet and physical health are integrally tied. Choosing eggs over oatmeal at breakfast may help determine whether you maintain a sunny disposition or are moody for the rest of the day.

The Power of Carbs

A chocolate chip cookie doesn't just taste good; it actually changes your neurochemistry. Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Judith Wurtman found that carbohydrates stimulate the production of a feel-good hormone called serotonin. Serotonin signals your brain that you are full after a meal and regulates your mood. Women are more dependent on carbohydrates for serotonin production than men since they have lower serotonin levels overall, according to Wurtman. Another group, which Wurtman dubs "carbohydrate cravers," needs to consume a certain quantity of carbohydrates to feel emotionally healthy. If they replace carbohydrates with fat or protein, carb cravers often feel lethargic, irritable, cranky and apathetic.

Choosing Wisely

A moderate- to high-carbohydrate diet may help you maintain a positive outlook, but it's important to eat the right carbohydrates. Beth Kitchin, assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham's department of Nutrition Sciences, recommends whole grains such as brown rice, whole-wheat bread and pasta, and oatmeal, as well as high-fiber, starchy vegetables, including beans and peas. Whole grains and dietary fiber are essential for bowel and cardiovascular health and may help with weight loss. At least three of your daily servings of carbohydrates should include whole grains; save sugary, refined baked goods for occasional treats.

Good Mood Food

A deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish like salmon and some plants, meat and nut oils, is associated with depression, impulsive behavior and an overall negative mood. Many people consume an excess of omega-6 fatty acids, found in eggs, poultry and other products, which overpower omega-3 fatty acids, reports Sarah-Marie Hopf at Dartmouth University. Other micronutrient deficiencies, including thiamine, folate and iron, can negatively impact mental and emotional health. If your moods oscillate frequently, talk to your doctor about improving your diet or taking a nutritional supplement.

Detrimental Dieting

How you eat is just as important as what you eat. Crash and yo-yo dieting often set up an unhealthy pattern of restriction and depression. You obsess over calories and meals, then feel anxious, upset and depressed about the diet and your body. Binge eating is a way of coping with the anxiety, which leads to feelings of guilt, remorse and self-loathing. You resolve to try again and start the whole cycle from the beginning. A few pounds of weight loss may elevate your mood briefly, which makes the subsequent crash worse. Instead of dieting, adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle to banish mood swings.

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