As a mental health counselor, there are a few things I find myself continually suggesting to clients as a path to mental and emotional health. While I personally think they’re all top priority, I realize realistically, we can only do one or two things, especially when beginning a new healthy journey. Among the most important are good sleep, meditation, and exercise; however, one often overlooked, but very important aspect of achieving and keeping healthy mental clarity, focus and energy, is mood food—energy-boosting foods that keep you feeling good!
Food Changes Brain Structure
WebMd says that not only does food help increase your overall mood, it literally changes your brain structure. It is no secret that what we put into our body either has good, healthy nutrients with rich vitamins and minerals that are good for us, or they don’t. What we don’t always tune into, however, is how the things we put into our body create a chemical reaction in our brain and gut which can affect our emotional and mental well-being. As busy moms, employees, and wives, keeping up with energetic children and busy schedules, it is good news to know that even the simplest change in diet can keep us in tip-top mental shape.
Emily Weeks, RDN, LD at Zen & Spice suggests intuitive eating. She says that we need to tune into the cravings we have, and instead of strict dieting and restriction, which can lead to a downward spiral of binding, that we start listening to what our bodies really need. “Omega-3’s are essential for brain health,” according to Weeks. “Research has shown that a deficiency in omega-3’s is linked to inflammation, anxiety and depression,” she says.
Quick “Mood Food” Energy-Boosting Foods
So, what do we moms need to eat to keep energy and mood on point? Below are a few easy-peasy guidelines to help keep you on track with energy-boosting foods during busy momming days.
- Protein. Things like eggs, seafood, nuts, cheese sticks, and yogurt help slooooow down the absorption of the carbohydrates you do take in. Also, these proteins help keep us fuller, longer, so when we’re on the go, these are the best go-to choices for snacks. Tip: Carry these snacks with you through the day: easy-pouch salmon, cheese sticks, and a handful of nuts.
- Omega-3 fats. There is a strong link between the intake of these healthy fats in your diet and depression. I like to think of the communication pathways in your brain like a “slip-and-slide.” Your neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, need to move efficiently and swiftly through your communication pathways, but when there isn’t enough lubrication on the slip-and-slide, they get jammed up and don’t move well enough. In other words, you stop feeling the effects of your own body-generated feel-good chemicals. Adding healthy fats to your meal increases the efficiency of those feel-good chemicals because they’re moving quicker in your brain. How to do it? Add things like fatty fish, flaxseed, and even an omega-3 supplement to your diet. My favorite is this liquid form from Nordic Naturals. There’s a touch of lemon in there, and it won’t give you that after-fish flavor. Tip: Salmon is a good source of fat, but you can also make a smoothie and add in your omega-3s that way. In your smoothie, add one cup strawberries, one tablespoon almond butter (or your favorite nut butter), chia seeds, flax seeds, and almond milk. Or, try this yummy recipe from Zen & Spice: BBQ Salmon Sesame Noodles
- Vitamin D, Folate and B-12. That’s specific, I know, but these vitamins can help ease depression and get you in a better mood overall. They aren’t as hard to get in your diet as you might think: eggs, soy milk (or low-fat milk), oatmeal, greens, salmon, lean beef, and cottage cheese. Tip: In addition to the salmon pouch, nuts, and smoothie from above, boil some eggs and have those with a few grape tomatoes. These nutrients are naturally found in animal products, so add this healthy fat to your diet for an energy boost.
The main goal here is to eat small, quick meals which can keep your energy and mood boosted throughout the day. It doesn’t take a large amount of meal planning or a large amount of food. The more you focus on healthy food intake, the more energy you’ll have to focus on the healthy food intake – it’s an endless cycle of giving your brain and body what it needs to thrive!