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How Healthy Eating Affects Mood

By Amanda Knaebel

Eating a variety of healthy foods is one way to help you smile when you step on the scale, and modifying your diet to include more mood-enhancing foods can also help you maintain that cheery disposition. A healthy diet isn't a cure for clinical depression or mood disorders, however. Discuss prolonged or moderate to severe mood problems with your doctor.

Balancing Act

The old adage "variety is the spice of life" certainly applies when it comes to choosing a healthy diet that will help regulate your mood. Your body needs a balance of healthy foods to regulate physical and mental functions. This means choosing a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein.

Limiting foods that can bring your mood down is just as important as consuming the right ones. A 2002 survey conducted by the Food and Mood Project found that people reported better moods when they limited sugar, caffeine and alcohol in their diets. Consuming sugar and white grains causes a quick spike in blood sugar, which leads to a run-down feeling when the body works to bring blood sugar levels back down. Consuming small amounts of caffeine can help you feel more alert, but more than a couple caffeinated beverages a day can lead to increased anxiety and sleep problems. Alcoholic beverages cause a temporary feeling of calmness, but alcohol also spikes blood sugar and acts as a depressant.

The Carb Connection

Carbohydrates often get a bad rap when it comes to healthy eating. While simple carbs, like sweets and white grains, can leave you feeling deflated, complex carbs are an important component of a mood-enhancing healthy diet. The body digests carbohydrates quickly, which increases the release of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that create a pleasurable feeling.

The insulin the body releases when blood sugar levels rise after consuming foods high in carbs causes muscles to absorb most amino acids other than tryptophan. This increases tryptophan levels in the blood, allowing it to enter the brain, where it helps synthesize serotonin. The federal government suggests that 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbs.

Something's Fishy

Fatty fish, such as mackeral, salmon and sardines, are some of the best foods you can add to your diet to help improve your mood. These fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce the risk of depression. Try to eat a serving of fish at least twice a week. If you're not a fan of fish, add omega-3 fortified foods, such as eggs or peanut butter. Walnuts and ground flaxseeds are also excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Nutrient Knowledge

Iron, folic acid and thiamine are important nutrients thta have strong links to mood. Iron helps stabilize mood and energy levels, and deficiencies can lead to fatigue and a depressed mood. Incorporating iron-rich foods, such as meat, broccoli, seafood, egg yolks and iron-fortified grains, can help keep you feeling upbeat. Folic acid is well-known for helping prevent birth defects, but it's also a powerful mood enhancer. Leafy greens, poultry, sprouts, oranges and whole-wheat bread are rich in folic acid, but you may need a multivitamin that provides extra folic acid, particularly if you're a woman of child-bearing age. Thiamine, found in pork, eggs, cauliflower and cereal grains, also helps improve your mood. While thiamine deficiencies are uncommon in the United States, not getting enough of the vitamin can lead to poorer mood, fatigue and decreased self-confidence.

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