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Healthy Foods Can Lift Your Mood

Heather Edwards Mental Health Counseling / Articles  / Healthy Foods Can Lift Your Mood

Healthy Foods Can Lift Your Mood

Thanks so much to my smart and witty cousin, Jessi Haggerty, RD for today’s post.  Jessi makes eating healthy fun and tasty!
Since delving into the world of nutrition and food, I have come to believe that there is a cure for everything in the food we eat, or don’t eat for that matter.  There have been numerous research studies, articles, and nutrition books written about how a high quality diet can prevent, and possibly cure, everything from heart disease to cancer.  But I’m here to talk about how your food can make your day, well, a little bit better.  

It’s no secret that the foods we eat can affect our mood, and that our mood can affect the food we eat, which can create a vicious cycle that is hard to break.  But it’s not only what we eat that matters, it’s how we eat, where we eat, why we eat, and when we eat that also plays a role in our physical and mental health.  

Serotonin is a hormone that you may have heard of, and while it has many functions, it’s most popular is how it affects our mood.  When serotonin levels are high, it creates a feel-good feeling in our bodies, and when their low, it can bring us down.  What many people don’t know however, is that the majority of our body’s serotonin is found in our gut, not our brain.  So, keeping our digestive tract clean and mobile is essential to keeping our mood and butts lifted and our mind and tummies tight.  

Here are a few simple rules to follow to help break that vicious cycle, and have everyone wondering how your always in such a dang good mood all of the time:

Question Cravings.  Awareness is your best friend.  When that cookie craving strikes, as yourself, why am I craving this right now?  What am I really hungry for?  Sleep?  A moment alone?  Someone to talk to?  Many times we crave food to fill the void for something else we’re craving in our lives.  Take a moment to explore what that is, before reaching for the Ben and Jerry’s.  

Indulge Mindfully.  When you do decide to indulge, do so mindfully.  Satisfy yourself with a small serving of whatever it may be.  A handful of potato chips, a small cup of ice cream.  Eat it slow, without distractions, and pay attention to your thoughts.  You might notice that it’s not really what you wanted or needed in that moment, but rather an impulse reaction to something else.  

Make the most out of your meals.  That means step away from your computer, television, or phone, and set a moment aside to enjoy your meal or snack.  Make it an experience by setting it up nicely on a (real) plate, and sitting down to enjoy it.  This will not only help your body trigger the correct satiety cue, but it will give you a chance to really enjoy what you’re eating, whatever it may be.

Say goodbye to refined sweeteners.  That goes for white sugar, brown sugar, agave nectar, and syrups.  Sugars (especially high fructose corn syrup), cause an immediate release of the hormone serotonin, creating a feel-good feeling for now, but can bring you down even lower later.  Try sweetening your food with unrefined sweeteners like honey and dried and fresh fruits and fruit juices.

Eat healthy, whole fats.  Get your fat intake from healthy, whole food fats like nuts, seeds, avocados and coconuts.  Cut back on animal-based fats and refined oils.  Try adding chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts into your daily routine.  These seeds and nuts are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for healthy brain function and decrease any stress-induced inflammation in your body and your gut.  

Eat your fruits and veggies.  I recommend 10 servings per day.  1 serving = 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw veggies, 1/2 cup fruit or 1/2 of a large piece of fruit (like an apple, banana, or orange).  Fruits and vegetables are the most nutrient dense food around, and will provide you with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and antioxidants that you can’t find in most other foods.  If your diet is void of these nutrients, you’ll likely never feel truly satiated, which will lead you to start craving more food to fill the hole, especially during times of stress and fatigue.  Plus, all of that fiber acts as a scrub brush keeping your gut nice and clean.  

Start your day off with a healthy, hearty, breakfast... free of refined sugars and carbohydrates.  Skipping (or eating a small) breakfast can lead to later-in-the-day cravings of those high fat, high sugar bring-you-down foods. Try eating a high volume breakfast that consists of unrefined carbohydrates, a fruit/vegetable, and a healthy fat.  See my recipe for carrot cake oatmeal below.  

Carrot Cake Oatmeal
Serves 2

1/2 cup whole rolled oats, or steel cut oats, dry
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup chopped pineapple
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup raisins 

In a large pot, place oats, coconut milk, and carrot.  Cook until all of the liquid is absorbed (time will vary depending on type of oats).  Fold in pineapple, pecans, and raisins and serve.  Sweeten with optional honey.  

You can also make a large batch of this, and refrigerate or freeze in individual portions for an easy quick breakfast.  

Jessi has been working in the health and fitness field for over 6 years and is currently living and working in Boston, MA as a Registered Dietitian, Personal Trainer, and Movement Instructor.   She received her BS in Nutrition and a minor in Dance from Boston University and completed a dietetic internship at Oregon Health and Science University.  She currently works for Whole Foods Market as a Healthy Eating Specialist, as well as runs her own nutrition blog and business Just Bee (www.whatwillyoubee.com).  
Heather Edwards, LMHC, BCC

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