The winter blues may be in full swing, but there are foods that can actually improve your mood! However, eat for sustained energy, not quick-fix stimulation. Coffee, tea and chocolate may make you happy and energized quickly, but they often lead to blood sugar (and mood) crashes later. High quality foods help produce chemicals in your brain that can improve not only your mood, but also your memory, energy level and sleep.
Choose complex over refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates (things made with white flour) are digested quickly, causing your blood sugar to spike, then drop. This leaves you cranky, tired and reaching for more to eat. Instead, eat whole grains, veggies, fruit and legumes for complex carbohydrates and fiber to decrease blood sugar swings.
Eat protein at each meal. Heart healthy, lean protein helps your brain release dopamine and norepinephrine shortly after you eat. Effect: you are more alert and focused for hours. Choosing protein from fatty fish (like salmon and tuna) provides omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to a better mood.
Get enough vitamin D. This sunshine vitamin has been linked to decreased depression and cancer risk. Make sure you are getting enough by consuming plenty of fish with bones, fortified soy milk, egg yolks and mushrooms. (If you are considering a supplement, speak with your health care provider to determine what is best for you.)
Improve your digestive system. There may be a correlation between healthy gut bacteria and a better mood. An easy way to help support your digestive system? Reach for probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt, to deliver beneficial bacteria.
Develop a consistent eating pattern. Make sure you start your day off with breakfast within 90 minutes of waking up. Throughout the day, eat every 3–4 hours for constant energy and fuel. Make sure that eating pattern includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. Blueberries are high in antioxidants which not only keep the blues away, but help protect your memory and brain health. Similarly, leafy greens are rich in magnesium, a mineral that has been linked to reduced anxiety.
Exercise. The effects of exercise, like better sleep, improved mood and better overall outlook, can last up to 24 hours after exercise. Try to be physically active every day and stay hydrated with plenty of water, fruits, veggies and calorie-free beverages.