Food & Mood

eating cakeContributed by Jyoti Sachdeva, MD

A recent survey—conducted by NPR, Harvard School of Public Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—found that when stressed, most people seek out sugary or highly refined carbohydrates for immediate comfort. The problem is, these very same foods can negatively affect our emotional wellbeing.

Sugary, high-carb comfort foods often lead to a damaging cycle of blood-sugar surges and crashes in hormones that can increase susceptibility to new stresses, according to David Ludwig, a pediatrics and nutrition professor at Harvard. Ludwig says in a previous study participants’ blood sugar initially surged after a meal of highly refined instant oatmeal—before dropping dramatically, causing a spike in their stress hormones.

The good news is there are some foods that can actually boost your mood. Foods like fish and flaxseed—which contain omega-3 fatty acids—can improve emotional health, suggests NIH researcher Joe Hibbeln. Eating such foods can regulate the body’s response to inflammation and stress. For instance, Hibbeln says that research shows that omega-3s help control symptoms of depression and even lead to more social behavior in children.

Other foods that can help improve emotional health and one’s ability to deal with stress include nutrient-rich foods like kale, eggs, dark chocolate, and pumpkin seeds, according to Columbia University psychiatrist Drew Ramsey. For instance, the magnesium in pumpkin seeds can help reduce anxiety, while zinc could help improve the immune system. Ramsey concludes that while no food can eliminate stress completely, “there is a very strong connection between food and mood”.

If choosing the right foods isn’t enough to boost your mood and help curb your stress, the Psychiatry and Behavioral Health services at UC Health’s Women’s Center can help. We offer thorough diagnostic evaluations and individualized treatment plans for a variety of mental health conditions. To schedule an appointment, call (513) 475-UC4U.

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