Macaroni and cheese, chocolate chip cookies, fried chicken, ice cream—these are some of the foods women turn to for comfort when we’re feeling emotionally strained, depleted or depressed. These foods can make us feel better for a few minutes, until the negative mood swings back into action. That’s often a result of the way certain foods raise and lower blood sugar or disrupt our bodily systems in other ways. Eating too much of one type of food or not enough of a certain nutrient can have both short- and long-term effects on mood. Yet there are terrific foods that bring real, long-lasting comfort when we are at risk of, or struggling with, stress or depression. Reaching for a banana topped with almond butter instead of a cookie can begin a simple, life-altering shift that may help you ward off mood problems as well as lessen the impact if they do occur. Magnesium for mood Gail Platts of Gorham, Maine, discovered the power of using food to help with mood when she was in college and interested in natural ways to manage anxiety and depression. She started eating more sunflower seeds, fish and other magnesium-rich foods, because she read they could help. Swift concurs with that idea, explaining that magnesium helps improve mood and energy by producing and supporting the brain chemical serotonin. Women frequently have insufficient amounts of magnesium in their system, she adds. Foods high in magnesium include almonds, avocados, spinach, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, soybeans, black beans, salmon, halibut, oysters and grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, oats, brown rice and amaranth. Friendly fats and carbohydrates Similarly, many women have shunned carbohydrates as a way to lose weight. Yet we often crave certain carbohydrate-rich foods (think sweets) when we’re depressed or stressed because carbohydrates produce serotonin, which floods us with good feelings and calmness. That blood sugar spike is followed quickly by a crash—often compounded by feelings of guilt about the enormous piece (or two) of cake we’ve just eaten. You need to consume carbohydrates every day to fuel your brain properly, but that doesn’t mean eating more sweets, known as simple carbohydrates (or simple sugars) or enduring the related fast rise and swift plunge in blood sugar levels. Think complex carbohydrates (starches), such as whole-grain products, vegetables (sweet potatoes are a great choice) and beans. Complex carbs contain fiber, which helps slow blood sugar level changes and reduce negative effects on mood. To get the most sustained energy, Taub-Dix recommends combining a complex carbohydrate with protein, another important nutritional depression fighter. Her suggestions for snacks to keep you going: low-fat cheese and whole grain crackers, turkey on whole-grain toast, or yogurt.
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