Do you cop to having a short fuse when it comes to dealing with life’s everyday stressors, such as your boss, your spouse, or even your kids? Do you reach for food or caffeine during the day in an attempt to feel calm, to find a jolt of energy or a moment of bliss? But above all else, do you just really crave a better mood? I recently did a segment on the Dr. Oz Show that tackled this topic. If you want to feel significantly less cranky and more able to sail through your day, read on.
Seek Energy, Not Stimulation.
While good habits such as eating breakfast every morning and regular meals and snacks throughout the day form the cornerstone of an energized outlook, science has increasingly revealed the vital ways in which our food impacts our mood. And it may surprise you that some of the best weapons to help cure crankiness can be found in your local grocery store.
These 5 foods will help your mood in two ways: first, they deliver several key nutrients that science has found play a vital role in supporting brain chemistry to reduce the risk of depression and help improve the quality of your sleep. But they do something equally important as well: their powerful combination of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants help you build up your energy and capacity to handle life from your body’s deepest levels (your cells metabolic and energy pathways), rather than that quick burst of stimulation from a sugar or high caffeine fix that ultimate leaves you feeling cranky or tired. Try including them as part of a delicious new happiness routine.
In order for your brain to function optimally it needs to have the right nutrient building blocks available, and omega-3 fats are one of the most important when it comes to boosting your mood. The brain is 60% fat, and particularly loves omega-3 fats, but most Americans get far too little omega-3 in their diet. The problem with that? Growing evidence suggests that consuming inadequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with depression and poor moods.
Fatty fish like salmon is one of Nature’s richest source of omega-3 fats, so for a mood lift enjoy fatty fish 2-3 times each week. Odds will be you’re in happier company, as studies have found that people who infrequently eat fish are more likely to suffer from depression. For an extra “heaping of happiness”, coat the salmon with crushed hemp seeds (available in the natural foods section of most grocery stores) and top it with a radish sprout salad: both the seeds and the sprouts are rich in vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fats to further bolster mood, brainpower and immunity.
By eating this way, you’ll enjoy a double brain benefit, too: not only do foods rich in omega-3 fat help fight crankiness and improve your outlook today, they help you maintain a robust memory and significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia as you age.
2. Mushrooms Exposed to UV Light .
Vitamin D is another key part of “mood maintenance” because it helps regulate the activity of the brain’s neurotransmitters (serotonin, melatonin and dopamine) which have have a profound impact on mood. Studies have found the likelihood of having depression is significantly higher in people with deficiency in vitamin D compared to those who have normal levels. And chances are, you or someone you know might be deficient and not even know it (a blood test is required); by some estimates over 50% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, making it a critical component in a crank-proof diet.
While it can be difficult to meet the RDA for Vitamin D through food alone (which is 600 IU for people ages 19-70), one fantastic food that has recently come to a supermarket near you is Vitamin D-packed mushrooms. These are mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light, which naturally boosts the vitamin D level, so that 1 cup of these mushrooms packs 100% of the RDA (look for this on the label). Serve these mushrooms over couscous for an easy and delicious dinner; the couscous is rich in selenium, another nutrient that has been linked to improved mood.
3. Tart Cherries.
Savor a handful of dried tart cherries before you turn in for the night and you’ll set the stage for a better mood when you wake up. Tart cherries are rich in a hormone called melatonin, which acts as a natural sleep aid by improving quality of sleep. As we age, our bodies’ natural ability to produce melatonin decreases (one reason why seniors can find it harder to sleep soundly), and things like stress or artificial light can also lower our body’s melatonin. And here’s an added bonus: cherries’ powerful bundle of antioxidants helps protect your brain from free radicals, which enables your brain chemistry to be optimized for a good mood.
4. Amaranth Popcorn.
This one’s fun as it is tasty! Amaranth is a delicious “new ancient grain” to try if you haven’t yet added it to your shopping list. This supergrain is loaded with antioxidants, minerals, fiber and iron, and was considered a life sustaining food of the ancient Aztec and Inca cultures.
Whole grains are a key part of any crank proof diet, as the carbohydrate in whole grain helps raise levels of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, which acts as the body’s natural anti-depressant. The fiber in amaranth also helps keep blood sugar stable, so you feel more alert and energized longer. This is a key reason to choose whole grains over refined grains and sweets when looking for a mood boost, for those sugary treats often trigger blood sugar to spike and plummet, leading to crankiness and faster fatigue.
Look for amaranth in the bulk section of your grocery store or in the natural foods aisle. For a fun twist, try amaranth popcorn: simply put a dry medium skillet over medium high heat, and when hot add 2 Tbsp. amaranth seeds: COVER QUICKLY WITH A LID so it doesn’t pop everywhere! Gently shake back and forth, and the grains will quickly pop into “micro popcorn” in about 10 seconds. Pour into a dish and repeat with another 2 Tbsp. Dust with cinnamon for an added antioxidant and flavor boost.
5. Medjool Dates and Cocoa.
Nearly all of the cranky viewers Dr. Oz and I spoke with sought out sweets at some point during their day; after all, who doesn’t like to feel that quick “pick me up” that sweetness can bring? The challenge is the sheer amount most of us are eating: Americans consume more than 22 teaspoons of sugar each day, According to a 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
While the initial rush of sugar can indeed perk you up, it ultimately leads to the crankiness of that inevitable crash. A sweeter fix for your sweet tooth is to try my Decadent Chocolate Fix, made from just 3 superfoods: Avocado, Medjool dates, and cocoa powder. Aside from all the health benefits of cocoa for the cardiovascular system (mainly in the form of flavonoids) the reason cocoa often gives an instant feeling of happiness is due to the rush of dopamine that triggers the brain’s pleasure receptors, and endorphins which give a feeling of a natural high.
As with any sweet treat, even this one should be eaten in modest portions because it is high in calories, but at least you can go to the dark side in a delicious, healthy way.
- 6 Medjool dates (room temperature)
- 1/2 ripe Hass avocado
- 4 tbsp high quality cocoa
- 1-2 tsp water (optional)
Place all ingredients in a food processor or Vitamix and purée until smooth. Add 1-2 tsp of water to combine if needed.
What foods help you crank-proof your diet? I'd love to hear about them!
Written with help from Lindsey Toth, MS, RD