5 Foods That Put You in a Bad Mood — and 4 That’ll Put You in a Better One
By Jenn Sinrich | Originally Published on Total Beauty | Featuring Dr. Sherry Ross
“You are what you eat” is a saying worth listening to. Food doesn’t just affect us physically, it also leaves an impression on our mental and emotional state. In fact, a growing body of research suggests a connection between eating patterns and depression. “Studies have shown that diets based on whole foods (fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins, whole grains) are linked with a lower risk of depression than diets filled with processed foods (desserts, high-fat processed meats, refined carb, sweets, fried foods),” says Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian. “Also, diets filled with anti-inflammatory foods are linked with lower risk of depression.”
In other words, if you eat a diet rich in essential nutrients, your body and brain will thank you. To help guide you towards a better mood, here are the foods that nutrition experts recommend eating — and the foods to avoid.
Mood Crusher: Agave Nectar You might think agave nectar is a great all-natural swap for sugary syrups in your cocktails (after all, it’s one of the main ingredients in the classic margarita) but this isn’t exactly true. In fact, agave nectar, the stuff that comes from the plant species bearing its name, has extremely high levels of fructose — even more than high-fructose corn syrup — which is not only terrible for you but can quickly lead to a bad mood. “Fructose is not as easily metabolized as glucose and humans were not meant to ingest large doses of it,” explains Kristine Arthur, MD, internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. “Fructose has to be metabolized almost entirely by the liver and, over time, this causes fatty liver and elevated triglycerides which can eventually lead to advanced liver disease and coronary artery disease.”
Mood Booster: Lean Meats Lean sources of protein, such as beef, pork, lamb and turkey, are a top source of the amino acid tryptophan, which helps produce serotonin to help boost your mood, says Toby Amidor, MS, RD and best-selling cookbook author of The Easy 5-Ingredient Healthy Cookbook. “Taking these foods out of your diet can minimize serotonin production, which is linked to depression,” she adds. Additionally, protein helps keep you feeling satisfied and full for longer periods of time so you’ll feel way less “hangry.”
Mood Crusher: Fast Food Burgers We know you hate to love them and that they’re darn tasty but there’s no getting around the downward mood spiral that’s sure to ensue after wolfing down a McDonald’s or Burger King burger. “Not only do blood sugar levels spike after eating fast food, thanks to their high saturated fat content, but they’re also packed with sodium, which affects water retention, increases blood pressure and heart rate,” explains Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN and Women’s Health Expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “Depression is more common in those eating fast food regularly.”
Mood Booster: Fatty Fish There are countless health benefits that come from eating a diet rich in healthy fats, such as the kind found in your favorite seafood sources. “Specifically, tuna, salmon, mackerel and other fatty fish provide omega-3 fats, an essential fatty acid,” explains Amidor. “Omega-3 helps regular brain chemicals, including dopamine, which the brain releases in response to positive, happy experiences and serotonin.” Another reason to add omega-3s to your diet is that they reduce inflammation, which leads to an imbalance of flora in the intestines. “Symptoms, although not always apparent, can include bloating, diarrhea or painful digestion — the culmination of which is a real recipe for a bad mood,” says Kimszal.
Mood Crusher: Pasta and White Bread These two classic comfort foods might make us feel good in the moment but shortly after, we’re bound for a crash. “Eating a diet high in white pasta and bread will cause a surge in blood sugar causing your pancreas to respond by producing insulin to help clear the sugar from your blood,” says Jeanette Kimszal, RDN. “These carbohydrates make your body work harder to digest, leaving you feeling lethargic, prone to mood swings and less alert.” Gotta have your carbs? Fill up on the complex kind — true whole grains and vegetables like quinoa or spaghetti squash, which contain fiber to slow digestion and keep your metabolism in check.
Mood Booster: Magnesium-Rich Foods This all-important nutrient is responsible for many bodily functions, including regulating nerve function, maintaining blood sugar levels, making protein and ensuring that blood levels are stable. “Low levels of magnesium are associated with increased inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which are associated with depression,” explains Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness and creator of the 5-Minute Mindful Eating Exercise. Eating enough magnesium from sources like quinoa, spinach, beans, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, almonds, cashews and flaxseed may help lower symptoms of anxiety and depression, she adds.
Mood Crusher: Diet Soda Whether you’re sipping diet soda to help slash calories or you simply like the flavor, you probably already know it’s not the greatest for you. But did you also know that zero-calorie sugar substitute aspartame may be linked to headaches, dizziness, digestive problems, mood changes, Alzheimer disease, multiple sclerosis and some cancers? “Sugar in moderation is a healthy alternative to aspartame,” says Ross.
Mood Booster: Leafy Greens You’re probably already familiar with the myriad reasons you should be incorporating more greens into your diet but you might not have realized the influence one of the main nutrients found in these greens can have on your mood — specifically, B-vitamin folate. “Increasing foods high in folate, like kale, spinach and collard greens, may help stabilize mood by reducing depression,” says Amidor. One study published in PrevMED analyzed hundreds of thousands of adults and found that consumption of fruits and veggies rich in folate and antioxidants significantly reduced the risk of depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders.
Mood Crusher: Processed Foods A diet high in processed foods, such as processed meats (bacon, sausage, ham), sugar-sweetened soda and sugary foods (desserts, baked goods) is linked to higher risks of depression, says Palmer. Studies that analyzed adults suffering from major depressive disorder found that those who had a diet higher in processed foods had a smaller hippocampus (the area of the brain that controls memory, mood and learning) than those who had a diet high in nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and fish.