The Good-Mood Diet
No matter what’s got you in the dumps, eating certain foods can actually improve your mood.
Illustration Credit: Ellen Rooney
If you’re feeling: Stressed Out
Eat: Chicken stir-fry with brown rice
When you’re stressed to the max, you may be tempted to self-soothe with food: a bag of chips, mac ‘n’ cheese, a carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream (or all of the above). But overeating won’t turn a bad mood around—it will only make it worse, according to research from Penn State. That may be because eating poorly can make you feel guilty. Instead of reverting to comfort foods, plan your dinner ahead of time and stick to the menu no matter what happens during your day. Your best bet to restore balance: a meal with lean protein, plenty of vegetables, and whole grains.
If you’re feeling: Grumpy
If you’re starting to feel sluggish, mentally or physically, during the day, drink a big glass of water—or chow down on watery foods like cucumbers, watermelon, or soup. Being even mildly dehydrated can cause headaches, fatigue, and problems in focusing, according to a 2012 study from the University of Connecticut. Everyone’s water needs are different, which is why eight glasses of water might not work for you. How do you know if you’re getting enough? TMI alert: your urine should be pale yellow or nearly clear.
If you’re feeling: Sleepless
Eat: A big salad
What you eat can affect the amount and quality of the z’s you get at night. A study in the journal Appetite looked at the dietary habits of very short sleepers (less than five hours a night), short sleepers (five to six hours), normal sleepers (seven to eight hours) and long sleepers (nine-plus hours). The research found that people who got the optimal amount of sleep (normal sleepers) had the most variety in their diets. Nibbling on many different kinds of foods will give you the biggest range of nutrients that benefit sleep. Pack a wide variety into a big lunchtime salad and cover all your nutrient bases: vegetables, fruit, cheese, nuts, and protein.
If you’re feeling: PMS
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women who had the highest intake of plant-based iron were 34 percent less likely to suffer from premenstrual syndrome than women who ate the least amount. Iron is used to help create mood-boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin, so that may be one reason for the association. Researchers suggest that the biggest benefits may come from eating 20 milligrams of iron a day—that’s higher than the 18 mg currently recommended for women. Beat the bloating, fatigue, and low mood associated with PMS by boning up on plant sources of iron like lentils, dark leafy greens, and tofu.