Studies have shown that some foods make us feel calmer while other foods can act as stimulants — at least temporarily. If you experience stress and anxiety or panic attacks, making some modifications to your diet may help alleviate your symptoms. Here are five foods you may want to add to your diet to boost your mood, and four foods you may want to avoid because they can increase stress and even possibly cause a depressed mood.
2 Food to Eat: Turkey and Tryptophan-Rich Foods
Some researchers believe that tryptophan can have a positive effect on stress because this amino acid helps your brain produce feel-good chemicals. “Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter, helps you feel calm,” said San Francisco nutritionist Manuel Villacorta, MS, RD, a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association (now known as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).
You will find tryptophan in a variety of foods: turkey, chicken, bananas, milk, oats, cheese, soy, nuts, peanut butter, and sesame seeds. However, there is some question about whether tryptophan found in food crosses the blood-brain barrier, so the effect is not going to be a dramatic one.
3 Food to Eat: Beef and Foods Rich in Vitamin B
Studies have shown a relationship between the B vitamins, including thiamin or vitamin B1, and mood. A deficiency in B vitamins such as folic acid and B12 can trigger depression in some people. You can take a vitamin B supplement or eat foods that are rich in B vitamins to ward off anxiety. These include beef, pork, chicken, leafy greens, legumes, oranges and other citrus fruits, rice, nuts, and eggs.
4 Food to Eat: Whole Wheat Bread
Carbohydrates also increase production of serotonin in the brain. When choosing mood-lifting carbs, go for whole grains, such as whole wheat bread or brown rice, rather than processed choices, such as sugar, candy, or even white bread and white rice, Villacorta said. Whole grains take longer for the body to break down, and release sugar into the bloodstream slowly. Processed carbs may give you an initial surge of energy, but that can be followed by an insulin rush, which rapidly drops blood sugar levels, ultimately leaving you feeling lethargic.
5 Food to Eat: Salmon
Evidence continues to mount that consuming omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, lake trout, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines, can be uplifting and enhance your mood. Some studies have shown that patients who took omega-3 fatty acids along with their prescription antidepressantsimproved more than those who took antidepressants alone. A possible side benefit: Omega-3s may reduce risk of heart disease.
6 Food to Eat: Greek Yogurt and Other High-Protein Foods
Protein helps stimulate the production of the brain chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine, which, like serotonin, are neurotransmitters and carry impulses between nerve cells. Higher levels of norepinephrine and dopamine have been shown to improve alertness, mental energy, and reaction time, Villacorta said. Good sources of protein include Greek yogurt, fish, meats, cheese, eggs, nuts, beans, soy, and lentils. “The ideal for mood-boosting,” Villacorta said, “is to combine complex carbohydrates and protein, and to spread your meals throughout the day.”
7 Food to Avoid: Coffee and Caffeinated Drinks
Some people drink coffee and other beverages that contain caffeine (tea, cola, and hot chocolate) to help boost their energy levels. The problem is that caffeine has been shown to inhibit levels of serotonin in the brain, and, when serotonin levels are suppressed, you can become depressed and feel irritable. Caffeine is also a diuretic— it makes you go to the bathroom more often. Even mild dehydration can cause depression. Caffeine also can keep you awake, leading to stress and anxiety. Remember that you need to sleep well to be in a positive mood.
9 Food to Avoid: Alcohol
Some people drink alcohol because it seems to ease stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, the good mood is only temporary. In the long run, alcohol is a depressant. Like caffeine, alcohol is a diuretic, and it’s important to stay hydrated for a number of reasons, including mood. If you do drink, drink in moderation. “If you have a 6-ounce glass of wine at dinner, it’s probably fine,” Villacorta said. “But you don’t want to be a heavy drinker, finishing off a few bottles with your meal.”
10 Food to Avoid: Hot Dogs
Could processed foods such as hot dogs, sausage, pie, and cakes cause anxiety or other mental health issues? Researchers in London found that eating a diet of processed and fatty foods increases the risk for depression. In the study, people who mainly ate fried food, processed meat, high-fat dairy products, and sweetened desserts had a 58 percent higher risk of depression than those who ate “whole” foods such as fish and vegetables. It’s best for your mood, said Villacorta, to skip the over-processed foods.