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Feel blue? Try leafy greens and other ‘mood foods’

From fighting off cranky behavior to preventing dementia, foods can have a powerful effect on your mental health. Nutritionist Joy Bauer shares what you should eat to improve your mood and brain function.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

If you find yourself cranky, irritable and quick to snap at friends, family and co-workers, a better eating plan may be just what you need. Steady your blood sugar with the following strategies and incorporate foods rich in nutrients that have been shown to combat depression and lift mood.   

Tips to steady your blood sugar:

Eat every four to five hours
Eating consistently throughout the day provides your brain and body with a constant source of fuel. This four- to five-hour eating strategy can dramatically prevent dips in your blood sugar levels. Some people with diagnosed hypoglycemia may need to eat even more frequently (every two to three hours).

Limit refined carbohydrates
Concentrated sources of sugar like soda, candy, fruit juice, jam and syrup can create radical spikes (and drops!) in your blood sugar — which leaves you feeling cranky and tired. And although refined, white starches like white bread, crackers, bagels and rice do not naturally contain sugar compounds, they are metabolized into sugar very quickly and can often create the same effect.

Combine high-quality carbohydrates and lean protein
Protein and high-fiber carbs (specifically carbs rich in soluble fiber, like oats, barley, certain fruits and veggies) have the ability to slow down the absorption of sugar in your blood and therefore lessen blood sugar and mood swings. Try an egg white omelet loaded with veggies for breakfast; grilled chicken and peppers in a whole-grain tortilla wrap for lunch; shrimp-broccoli stir-fry over brown rice for dinner; and snack on apple slices with peanut butter or nonfat yogurt with berries.

You’ll also want to incorporate two nutrients that have been shown to lift mood, specifically omega-3 fats and folic acid.

Omega-3 fatty acids are present in the brain at higher levels than any other part of the body, and of particular interest is the ability of omega-3 fats to help alleviate depression. Omega-3 fats can be found in fatty fish like wild salmon, sardines, Atlantic mackerel … and to a lesser extent in ground flaxseeds, walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs. If you’d like to try fish oil supplements, consult your personal physician.

Folate (also called folic acid) seems to be important for mood as well, and some studies have shown that low blood levels of this B vitamin are related to depression. If you’re experiencing the blues, be sure to include folate-rich leafy greens, sunflower seeds, soybeans, beets and oranges into your diet.

For more information on healthy eating, visit Joy Bauer’s Web site at