Are you feeling down in the dumps since the colder weather has come? Do the happy times of your Thanksgiving celebration just seem too far away? We have all heard the saying “you are what you eat,” but is it possible to eat yourself happy?
New research is showing that may just be the case. It seems from certain studies that eating certain types of foods containing particular vitamins and minerals may just have mood-boosting effects. It may seem silly that certain foods would put you in a better mood, but the fundamental principle makes sense: Healthy people tend to be happier and also tend to eat a more balanced diet.
Read on to find out more specifically which foods you should be consuming to wake up on the right side of the bed in the morning.
A main concept to fueling a content and stable mood is to maintain a fairly steady blood sugar. When your blood sugar spikes and drops quickly you can feel an energy buzz, but then are left feeling irritable and impatient.
To avoid feeling cranky and keep blood sugar levels steady, first choose complex carbohydrates over simple ones. Complex carbohydrates (such as whole wheat bread and pasta, fruits and vegetables) are metabolized more slowly than simple carbohydrates (such as soda, candy, refined grain products and sweets). The slower processing of complex carbohydrates helps to keep blood sugars steady for longer, which leaves you feeling more regular and energized throughout the day.
Soluble fiber can also aid in controlling blood sugar levels. It helps to slow the rate of absorption of sugar in the digestive tract, preventing sudden spikes in blood sugar levels. Soluble fiber is found in oats, brown rice, beans and peas and fruits like apples, pears and oranges.
Fruit and vegetables in general may have an even bigger role in happiness, though. Being healthy plays a big role in improving quality of life, and a 2007 study by the journal of Public Health Nutrition found that people consuming more than two servings a day of fruits and vegetables were 11 percent more likely to be functionally healthy. (Functional health reflects ones ability to fully perform desired physical activities in everyday life). Participants were also more likely to report positive feelings about their health and well being.
Some specific nutrients may also help you feel better.
Vitamin B12 and folate: Although inconclusive, some studies have shown that low levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid (folate) may correlate with feelings and symptoms of depression. Currently, there is much being done to find out just why these correlations may be occurring. Good sources of folic acid are fortified grain products like whole grain breads and cereals, dark leafy greens and beans. Vitamin B12 is usually found in animal sources such as meat, poultry, fish and dairy. If you are a vegan or don’t regularly consume meat and dairy you may want to choose a cow’s milk alternative like soy milk or rice milk that is supplemented with the vitamin.
Vitamin D: Several studies have looked at the incidence of depression in those who have low levels of vitamin D. It is thought that vitamin D insufficiency may play a role in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Major Depressive Disorder. While the results of these studies are not conclusive because of their small sample size, we all need to be attentive to the amount of vitamin D in our diet. Our bodies make vitamin D in our skin when we are exposed to the UV radiation in sunlight. However, in Wisconsin during the winter months, we do not get enough sun exposure to synthesize adequate amounts. We must, thus, consume it in our diet. Sources of vitamin D include fortified milk, egg yolks and fish such as salmon or tuna.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: In addition to vitamin D, fish is also a great source of omega-three fatty acids. Known for their effect on brain function, omega-3’s may stave off depressive symptoms. Types of fish containing omega-3s include salmon, tuna, rainbow trout and sardines. So you may not be excited about eating more fish and dairy, but what about chocolate? Treating yourself to 1 ounce of dark chocolate per day has been shown to boost endorphins or “feel good” chemicals in the brain. A one-ounce portion of chocolate is about one to two squares depending on the size of the chocolate bar and worth about 160-180 calories. Be sure to check the nutrition facts of the brand you are munching on to find the correct serving size because eating more than one ounce a day has not shown the same effects.
There are also substances you can limit to reduce your feelings of negativity. It is easy to forget in the hype of the college environment that alcohol is actually a chemical depressant. The substance slows down your brain, which can generate feelings of negativity, sadness and anger. Depressive disorders often coincide with substance abuse, so make sure to watch your intake carefully. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend that intake not exceed one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
What are some other healthy ways to guarantee you stay looking on the bright side? Regular exercise and sleeping seven to eight hours per day will do the trick. Exercise boosts your natural endorphins and getting the right amount of sleep each night helps keeps you at your healthiest. So there may be potential to eat your way happy. Just remember the focus should always be on a healthy, balanced lifestyle and eating real foods. If you wish to look into supplements or multivitamin options make sure you talk to a doctor or a registered dietitian before you add one to your routine.
This weeks recipe is a good source of omega-3’s, folic acid and vitamin B12. Finish off with a glass of skim milk and one ounce of chocolate for dessert and you will definitely wake up on the right side of the bed tomorrow.
Salmon Over Lemon Spinach Pasta
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons capers, drained
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into strips
1/4 - 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, optional
4 - 4 oz. salmon filets
In a large bowl, combine garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, capers, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Whisk together until blended. Set aside. In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package. Drain the pasta and add the spinach while noodles are hot so the leaves become wilted. Then place it into the bowl with the lemon juice and zest mixture. Toss to coat. Add the basil and red pepper flakes (if desired) toss again. Set aside. Sprinkle the salmon with salt and black pepper. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. If the salmon has skin, place it in the hot skillet with the skin side up. If the salmon doesn’t have skin, place it “upside down” first. After 2 minutes, turn the salmon over and cook another 2 minutes. Remove from heat. To serve, place a mound of the pasta spinach mixture on a plate then top it with a piece of salmon. Squeeze additional lemon juice over the top and enjoy!