Snap Out of It: Using Food to Boost Your Mood (Part 1)

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Does your family nickname you “the Grinch” at this time of year? Have you been feeling a bit like Scrooge? Well, there may be reasons for that. Now that the days are shorter and getting colder, you may be feeling a bit down in the dumps.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that can strike right about this time of the year, and it’s one possible culprit if you’ve been feeling blue. Or perhaps the holidays themselves are hard for you, leaving you feeling gloomy and hardly wanting to deck the halls. Or maybe your diabetes control isn’t quite where you want it to be: Living with and managing a chronic can definitely take a toll. There are any number of reasons you may not be feeling your usual self.

If you’ve been feeling blue for more than two weeks, talk to your health-care provider. He can recommend a course of treatment for you. Therapy and/or medication may be just the ticket. If you think you may have SAD, light therapy may be indicated. And while it’s the last thing you may feel like doing, exercise has been shown to boost mood, ease anxiety and depression, and help distract you from your worries — likely, in part, by causing your body to release “feel good” chemicals that instill a feeling of calmness.

How food can improve mood
We all know about “comfort foods.” Whether it’s a plate of macaroni and cheese, a box of chocolate chip cookies, or a bag of chips, many people turn to food for solace when they’re feeling low. The problem with eating foods like this is that the “comfort” factor is short-lived. You may feel good temporarily, but afterwards (when the whole bag or box is gone), you just feel bloated, full, and worse than you did before (not to mention having higher blood glucose levels to contend with!).

What I’d like to discuss is how to choose foods that can truly make you feel better on a regular basis. Research shows that certain foods and eating behaviors really do affect your mood (for better or worse, depending on which ones you eat). Eating certain types of food can lead to changes in the brain that, in turn, can affect your behavior and how you feel. Let’s take a look at what can help you feel better:

Eat regular meals. If you have diabetes, it’s likely been drummed into you to eat three meals a day to help with your diabetes control. The reality is, though, that some people skip meals, whether due to lack of time or just not feeling hungry. If you miss meals regularly, rethink your strategy. Your body needs fuel all day long. Going for spans of time without eating can leave you feeling tired, irritable, and grumpy. You need to eat every few hours.

Also, don’t skip breakfast. If you can’t stomach the thought of eating solid food in the early morning hours, try making your own smoothie or reach for a meal-replacement drink (you can get lower-carb drinks) to help jump-start your day.

Be a smart carb eater. I know many people shy away from carbs because of their diabetes. The key is not to banish carbs, but to choose carbs wisely. Carbohydrate foods help to produce a chemical called serotonin, which boosts mood, calms you down, and can even blunt appetite. Studies show that people who are too stringent with their carb intake tend to be more irritable, tense, and depressed than those who eat a healthy amount. But steer clear of refined, processed carbs like white bread, white rice, and sugary treats. Whole-grain and high-fiber carbs, found in brown rice, whole-grain pasta, and whole wheat bread, for example, are the mood-boosting carbs I’m talking about.

Fill up on fish. Fish is often called “brain food,” and for good reason. Not only is it high in protein, some fish (fatty fish) contain a type of fat called omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats can protect against depression. In fact, studies indicate that a low intake of omega-3s is linked with depression and pessimism. Go for salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, or herring at least twice a week.

Spice it up. If you like spicy foods that contain turmeric, you may be in luck. Turmeric, a spice used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, is used in curry dishes. Turmeric contains curcumin, a polyphenol (type of antioxidant) that, in animal studies, worked just as well as medicine to improve mood.

Sip on green tea. Drinking any cup of hot tea can have a calming, soothing effect. In particular, though, you might try green tea, which has a polyphenol called EGCG, linked to decreasing stress and depression. A Japanese study found that people who drank at least 5 cups of green tea each day had significantly less stress than those who drank less than 1 cup per day.

Oops, out of room for this week. More mood-boosting foods and tips to come!

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