It’s possible to beat back the blues — or an attack of the grumpies — by watching what (and when!) you eat.
If you sometimes find yourself short-tempered and irritable — quick to snap at your friends, family members, and co-workers — you may be in need of a better eating plan. One of the biggest contributors to either a sudden or a chronic low mood is a drop in blood sugar, or glucose.
Snacking on concentrated sweets is not an effective solution for the long term, however, because the spike in sugar they induce is usually followed by a mood-destroying drop, which can leave you feeling fatigued, agitated, and depleted. You can go a long way toward maintaining an even blood sugar level by heeding the following tips:
Eat every four to five hours.
Eating consistently throughout the day — every four to five hours — provides your brain and body with a constant source of fuel and can prevent dips in your blood sugar levels. Some people with diagnosed hypoglycemia may need to eat even more frequently (every two to three hours).
Limit refined carbohydrates.
Concentrated sources of sugar, like soda, candy, fruit juice, jam, and syrups, can cause radical spikes (and drops) in your blood sugar, which ultimately leave you feeling grumpy and tired. Refined starches, such as white bread, crackers, bagels, and rice, often produce the same effect because they break down quickly in your digestive system to form blood sugar. Stick with whole-grain versions of these foods, which are digested more slowly because of their higher fiber content and which therefore keep your blood sugar stable.
Combine high-quality carbohydrates with lean protein.
Protein combined with high-fiber carbohydrates (specifically those rich in soluble fiber, like oats, barley, and certain fruits and veggies) has the ability to slow the absorption of sugar in your blood and lessen mood swings. Try an egg-white omelet loaded with veggies for breakfast, grilled chicken and peppers in a whole-grain tortilla for lunch, shrimp-broccoli stir-fry for dinner, and celery sticks with peanut butter or nonfat yogurt with berries as snacks.
In addition to the role food can play in regulating your blood sugar, studies have shown that certain nutrients in food can positively affect mood. Indeed, some nutrients influence the function of specific neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain.
Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and folic acid.
Omega-3 fatty acids are present in the brain at higher levels than any other part of the body, and of particular interest is the ability of omega-3 fats to help alleviate depression. Omega-3 fats can be found in fatty fish like wild salmon, sardines, and Atlantic mackerel, and to a lesser extent in ground flaxseeds, walnuts, and omega-3-fortified eggs. If you’d like to try fish oil supplements, consult your physician.
Folic acid, also called folate, also seems to be important in regulating mood, and some studies have shown that low levels of this B vitamin in the blood are related to depression. If you’re experiencing the blues on a regular basis, you should report this to your doctor. But if you’re having some transitory moodiness, try to include leafy greens, fortified breakfast cereal, sunflower seeds, soybeans, beets, and oranges — all of which are rich in folic acid — into your diet. Also, consider a multivitamin that provides 100 percent of the daily value for folic acid.