Teach Me

Food and Mood: Is Your Food (or Lack Thereof) Making You Hangry?

Feeling, blue, blah or just downright hangry? Your food (or a lack thereof) could be partly to blame.

It’s been scientifically proven (and not just in Snickers commercials) that being hungry can put us “in a mood,” and getting the right nutrients can affect our mental health too.

“What you eat and how much you eat can have a major effect on your mind and mood,” said Rachel Harrison, a registered dietitian at Banner Health. “Our bodies function best when snacks and meals are made up of lean proteins, fresh produce, healthy fats and complex carbs, so when that ratio is off, your mood, focus and energy can be off as well.”

Take, for instance, those who decide to restrict their carb intake to lose weight. “Your brain’s main energy fuel is carbohydrates, so you are now depriving it of what it needs,” Harrison noted. As a result, you may start to feel sluggish and develop hunger. On the flip side, overeating too much carbohydrates or simple sugars can affect your waistline and affect your overall mood—leaving you sluggish and tired as well.

“Over time, restricting or eating foods lacking in a variety of nutrients can create nutritional deficiencies that are important to our body and minds,” Harrison said. “Fueling with the right nutrients will help you avoid those negative emotions.”

A better diet means a better you

We know it’s difficult to start and maintain a well-balanced diet. Remember there’s a time and a place for everything. It’s okay to indulge in those foods you crave every once in a while. Finding a good balance, however, even just small changes, can help significantly boost your mood.

“Look, I love cheese—mac and cheese, grilled cheese—you name it,” Harrison said. “I don’t exclude these items from my diet because I want that yummy food that makes me drool. But I make a point to also focus on foods that have high nutritional value as well. It’s all about balance that will keep your mind and mood in a good place.”

So, the next time your partner or friend are annoyed by your irrational behavior, consider what you ate (or haven’t eaten) recently and reach for a healthy food option (and maybe not that Snickers bar).

Here’s a look at specific foods and eating habits that can help boost your mood and mental health.

7 tips to boost your mental health everyday

  • Eat throughout the day. Whether you prefer three square meals a day or five to six small, frequent meals, make sure you aren’t starving your mind and body and are getting your daily nutritional needs.
  • Choose whole grains, fresh produce and lean, healthy proteins (i.e., chicken breast, fish, bison, beans, lentils and tofu).
  • Eat the right kind of fats. Pick heart-healthy fats like avocado, salmon, olive oil and canola oil. Choose less foods high in saturated/trans-fat such as processed foods, cheese and fried foods.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Monitor your caffeine intake. Caffeine can provide you a burst of energy but can then lead to fatigue or the jitters if you overindulge. You may choose to record your caffeine intake if you notice it interrupting your sleep and mood.
  • Limit alcohol. Alcohol may make you feel awesome in the moment, but it’s actually a depressant. More so, it can mess with sleep and increase your anxiety symptoms the day after. Alcohol also has diuretic properties so dehydration can occur.
  • Get physical activity every day. Whether it’s an afternoon walk or a heart-pumping spin class, a little exercise everyday can put more pep in your step and mood.

Ready to kick-start healthy changes in your life?

Check out these helpful posts to get started:

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