March 24, 2011 at 1:21 pm EDT | by Kevin M. Norris
Natural mood enhancers

Some foods offer a temporary mood boost, such as the natural boost the body gets from a sugar rush, but healthier options will yield more long-term benefits throughout the day. (iStock photo)

Every morsel of food and drink we consume has an impact on how we feel, our state of being and our energy level, from caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, whole grains and more.

Food affects mood and we can use food to help regulate our moods throughout the day and in winding down in the evening preparing ourselves for sleep.

It is important that we maintain a steady flow of the more beneficial types of food, which help regulate bodily functions and mood. Depriving yourself of essential foods will have a negative impact on your state of being. This is one of the main reasons to stay away from dieting, which can evoke moodiness.

Two areas that are essential to mood are keeping your blood sugars steady from meal to meal and throughout the day and your gastrointestinal system healthy. When your blood sugars fluctuate so does your mood and you become a roller coaster of emotion. And when your gastrointestinal tract is out of sorts due to hunger or dieting you aren’t getting enough fiber and water to keep things running smoothly.

Generally, we don’t think about what effect a particular food might have on our mood. Instead our nature is to go to foods that comfort us and those foods are not always the right choice. They initially may soothe our psyche or help with our stress, but generally they may affect our mood adversely.

For instance, a big bowl of ice cream may initially satisfy a craving and provide an immediate increase in energy from the sugar intake, but after the initial energy burst there will be a profound dip and we may feel worn or lethargic. And while most people will reach for chocolate over broccoli, thinking through and educating oneself on the effects of food and mood will better equip us to feel better consistently throughout the day. We will stay away from quick fixes and go for more sustainable foods.

Elizabeth Somer, author of “Food and Mood,” one of my favorite books, talks extensively on the subject of how food affects our moods and behaviors. This book is a great resource to turn to when determining what foods are right for you and when.

When you are sleepy or down in the dumps, stay away from too much caffeine or sugar and reach for complex carbohydrates that are low in protein and high in carbohydrates such as whole wheat bread with jam. Also reaching for caffeine periodically will provoke highs and lows throughout the day and require a steady flow of caffeine to keep us stimulated. This makes us want to reach for cup after cup, otherwise fatigue and headaches will set in.

When you are going to bed, avoid rich foods, chocolate and alcohol. Alcohol in particular keeps us from R.E.M. sleep. Drink warm milk for the soothing amino acid tryptophan or if you are lactose intolerant, turkey breast will do the trick.

When you need to be alert, turn to omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon or a low fat protein like skinless chicken breast.

Elaine Magee writes for Webmd and offers additional guidelines to make you feel good, such as consuming foods rich in vitamin B-12 and folic acid, which help with mood disorders. A perfect example here is spinach and salmon.

Consume fruits and vegetables to you heart’s content, which are packed with essential nutrients.

Eat selenium-rich foods every day. They are loaded with antioxidants that fight disease and aid in fighting depression. Reach for beans, legumes, low fat meats, nuts and seafood.

Eat fish several times a week, particularly fatty fish which are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. “Omega-3s from fish seem to have positive effects on clinically defined mood swings such as postpartum depression,” says Jay Whelan, head of the Department of Nutrition at the University of Tennessee. Sardines and tuna are excellent sources of omega-3.

Get a daily dose of Vitamin D. Fifteen minutes of sun will do the trick, which helps regulate vitamin D, particularly since few foods naturally contain vitamin D.

Need a mood booster without the dip in energy? Reach for chocolate, but make it dark and in moderation. Look for at least 65 percent cocoa content and don’t indulge in more than an ounce. Chocolate boosts our general sense of well being and is loaded with antioxidants.

You are what you eat and your mood depends on it. Eat well, get plenty of sleep and engage in a regular exercise program and you will help ensure the best of moods throughout the day.

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