Joy Bauer

Good mood food: Small changes can give you more energy, happiness

Sep. 27, 2012 at 11:20 AM ET

Between work, commute and home, there's plenty of stress to go around. Is it any wonder that we get moody, exhausted and cranky at times?

Registered dietitian and TODAY nutrition expert Joy Bauer adheres to the old adage that “you are what you eat,” and says simple changes in your diet can help.

“By eating the right foods, you really can significantly increase your mood, bump up your energy level and combat some of those ugly PMS symptoms,” Bauer told Natalie Morales on TODAY Thursday.

Her first suggestion is to exercise for at least a half hour every day. You can hit the gym, Bauer says, but your workout doesn’t have to be strenuous: You can practice yoga or meditation or “put your child in a stroller and just walk.”

“Exercise lets out feel-good hormones and it really can put you in a better mindset,” Bauer says. “It needs to be like a prescription.”

Eating fatty fish like salmon and sardines that contain Omega-3 fats and Vitamin D at least three times a week can help. Bauer recommends a salmon sushi or tossing salmon in a pasta with vegetables.

“The reason the reason I’m picking salmon is it has the type of Omega-3 fat called EPA,” she said. “When we look at the research, that tends to be linked to better brain health and boosting your mood a little bit more so than they type of Omega-3 in things like chia seeds and walnuts and flex seeds."

“Whenever you can, go for the fish,” Bauer says.

To lift your spirits, take five minutes a day, perhaps when you’re brushing your teeth or making dinner, Bauer says, to pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself.

“Think of three things that you did that day that you’re either grateful for or you’re proud of,” Bauer says. “We can all come up with three things.”

If you start to hit the wall at 4 p.m., protein can give you the punch you need to make it to bedtime. Try a snack with at least 10 grams of protein. “We know through research that protein helps to activate and wake up the brain receptors,” she said.

Try a low-calorie trail mix made from light popcorn with roasted edamame and peanuts, she said, or spritz the mix with oil and add Cajun seasoning. Another option is non-fat Greek yogurt or a hard-boiled egg with hummus replacing the yolk.

Another protein-packed snack is jerky made from salmon or turkey.

“Healthy jerky is raging right now,” Bauer says. “You want to look for brands that don’t have a lot of preservatives and additives and nitrates.”

A “moderate” dose of caffeine is OK too, she says, suggesting an unsweetened cup of green or black tea or a cup of half-decaf coffee.

If PMS is your problem, Bauer’s got a nutrient-rich potato for you. The “PMS potato” is a baked spud topped with black beans, light sour cream, reduced-fat cheese and salsa.

“Each layer is strategically formulated so that it gives you magnesium, calcium and Vitamin B6,” Bauer says. “Those are three things that help to fight irritability and bloat and mood swings.”

And if you NEED chocolate, Bauer suggests, try a “pudding” made from vanilla non-fat yogurt and unsweetened cocoa.

More TODAY Health tips from Joy Bauer:

Caffeine SOS: Questions and answers about our favorite stimulant

Low-fat, low-carb or low-glycemic? Study shows which is best diet

Clever diet tricks from big-time 'losers'

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