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5 Foods for a Better Mood

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Updated May 16, 2014

Foods for better mood
Hinterhaus Productions Collection/Taxi/Getty Images

1) Oatmeal

Oatmeal may help if you find yourself feeling irritable and cranky. It is rich in soluble fiber, which helps to smooth out blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar into the blood.

Oatmeal is also a great food to help you stick with your diet plan, because the soluble fiber in oatmeal forms a gel that slows the emptying of your stomach so you don't feel hungry quickly.

Other foods high in soluble fiber are: beans, peas, barley, citrus fruits, strawberries and apples.

What to try:

Add tasty toppings to oatmeal, such as:

  • Low-fat granola and skim milk
  • Coarsely chopped apple or unsweetened chunky applesauce with cinnamon
  • Strawberries and sliced almonds

2) Walnuts

Walnuts have long been thought of as a "brain food" because of their wrinkled, bi-lobed (brainlike) appearance. But now we know that walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, a type of fat that's needed for brain cells and mood-lifting neurotransmitters to function properly and possible help some people with depression.

Other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, flaxseeds, and omega-3 fortified eggs.

What to try:

  • Instead of reaching for a muffin as a snack, try walnuts and an apple. The fiber and good fat will also curb your appetite for longer.
  • Try mixing crushed walnuts into yogurt as a snack.
  • Sprinkle walnuts over salads.

3) Tea

Although caffeine has been shown to lead to a more positive mood and improved performance, it's a fine line.

Too much caffeine can make you dependent and make you nervous, irritable, hypersensitive or bring on headaches.

What to try:

  • A good strategy is to limit yourself to no more than one 8 oz. cup of coffee a day. Instead of that second cup, try making a cup of green tea. You can find it in teabag form in most grocery stores.
  • Another option: chai. It's an Indian tea made with regular black tea plus spices such as cardamom and cinnamon. The spices also add a natural sweetness to the tea, which may help you cut back on sugar and sweeteners.
  • If you're in the mood to try a new herbal tea, consider rooibos. Rooibos is a reddish brown tea that tastes more like regular black tea than other herbal teas.
  • Like chai, rooibos also has a hint of natural sweetness, which makes it a good option for people trying to lose weight.

    Try hot rooibos tea plain, with a wedge of lemon, or with milk. It also makes a great iced tea.

    Rooibos can be found in health food stores, some grocery stores, online, and increasingly, in cafes and restaurants that serve herbal tea.

4) Salmon

In the past few years, research has suggested that vitamin D may increase the levels of serotonin, one of the key neurotransmitters influencing our mood, and that it may help to relieve mood disorders.

We get vitamin D mainly through exposure to sunlight and in lesser amounts, through food. A recent study found that in Boston, however, exposure to sunlight during the months of November through February does not produce any significant amounts of vitamin D in skin.

What to try:

  • Canned salmon with bones is rich in vitamin D. It is also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Instead of tuna for your sandwiches, opt for canned Alaskan pink or sockeye salmon with bones. Choose water-packed salmon, which is lower in calories than the oil-packed.
  • Other foods high in vitamin D are fortified milk and fortified soy milk.

5) Lentils

A member of the legume family, lentils are an excellent source of folate, a B vitamin that appears to be essential for mood and proper nerve function in the brain.

Low levels of folate have been linked to depression. In fact, a Harvard study showed that 38 percent of depressed women are deficient in folate.

Although researchers don't yet fully understand the connection, folate deficiency appears to impair the metabolism of serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline, neurotransmitters important for mood.

A cup of cooked lentils provides 90% of the recommended daily allowance of folic acid. A healthy bonus: lentils contain protein and fiber, which are filling and help to stabilize blood sugar.

Other sources of folate include: fortified breakfast cereals, green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, liver, and beans.

What to try:

  • Toss cooked lentils with cherry tomatoes, sliced bell peppers, and carrots for an easy salad.
  • Try making lentil soup.
  • If beans make you gassy, use Beano.
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