Manage your mood with food

Tuesday, September 06, 2016 7:2AM

What we eat has a powerful effect on how we feel. In today’s world, many of us are experiencing outrageous and never-before-known levels of stress. Depression is at an all-time high with antidepressant use in this country among teens and adults increasing by almost 400 percent between 1988 and 2008. Our brains are wired while we are under stress to crave the foods that only make us feel worse, such as sugar, fat, caffeine, alcohol.

You can control quite a bit of this angst by being proactive about what you eat on a daily basis. Here are six tips to manage your mood.

1. Control your blood sugar. I think most of us know that when your blood sugar is low you feel irritable, hungry, and tired, otherwise known as “hangry.” But did you know when your blood sugar is high it may create insulin resistance in the brain, which can impact cognition and mood. A high sugar environment affects the frontal cortex of the brain, allowing the amygdala or the reptilian brain to take over. This usually doesn’t result in the best decisions or outcomes.


2. Take care of your gut. The research, in just this year alone, about the impact of the health of the gut on mood is amazing. Many researchers consider the gut to be the second brain. In fact, some says that the digestive tract creates 90 percent of the serotonin in our bodies. Serotonin is also known as the feel-good neurotransmitter.

Living in the modern world is a hazard to your gut because no matter how hard we try, we live in a toxic, stressful environment and sometimes we don’t eat as well as we could. These are all insults to the gut, which impact our mood.

To improve your gut eat more fermented foods such as sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha, kimchi , yogurt, kefir and miso. You may also want to consider using a probiotic supplement.

3. Eat quality fat. Fat is good for your brain and healthy fats are building blocks for hormones that also play a role in how we feel. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect on brain tissue. Some researchers are beginning to believe that inflammation is at the root of depression because of its effect on certain neurotransmitters such as GABA, serotonin, dopamine and glutamate. Great sources of healthy fat include olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, walnuts and other nuts, olives and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines.

4. Eat more turmeric. Turmeric is a great source of curcumin, which has significant anti-inflammatory properties. Several studies have shown that this yellow-pigmented substance in turmeric possesses antidepressant properties as well.If you choose supplemental curcumin, consume it with food, a little black pepper and a little healthy fat.

5. Magnesium has been long considered an important nutrient for brain function. Stress depletes magnesium. Deficiency of magnesium can lead to inflammation, insomnia, anxiety, poor memory and poor concentration.

Magnesium has been called the “anti-stress” mineral because it works to calm the nerves and relax the muscles, which in turn can help people fall asleep. Getting adequate sleep goes a long way toward improving your mood. Good sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish, legumes, avocado and whole grains.


6. Eat dark chocolate. If you feel good when you eat chocolate, there is a reason and it’s not just the sugar and the fat. Because chocolate contains phenethylamine, it causes the brain to release endorphins, chemicals that make us feel good. It also contains substances that might mimic the effects of marijuana, though some researchers say the amounts are so small that they are unlikely to make a difference. Other researchers believe that serotonin is the reason for those feel-good vibes because chocolate contains a precursor amino acid called tryptophan.

I can’t think of a better treat to help you feel better. The trick here is to make sure you only consume small amounts. A piece, not the bar.


At the root, what we eat on a daily basis has a profound impact on our hormones, neurotransmitters, our energy levels and the health of our brain. All of this determines how well we respond to stress and the daily challenges of life.


Ruth Clark is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a master’s degree in public health and over 35 years of experience. She lives in Sharon and has offices in Peterborough and Amherst.