Even wellness experts get the blahs. But instead of ice cream, they turn to healthy foods; and -- surprise! -- they really work.
The Greens That Beat The Blues
Does a cookie or a bag of chips really make a long, frustrating day better? Not exactly -- but food can lift your spirits. That's because the act of eating, in general, releases a hormone called oxytocin, which triggers feelings of pleasure, explains Torey Armul, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Yet, since relying on food as an emotional pick-me-up can lead to weight gain and chronic emotional eating, Armul usually reaches for one of the specific foods that's scientifically linked to improved mood. One of her go-tos: any food that's rich in folate, such as leafy greens, including spinach and kale. Consuming folate has been shown to raise levels of serotonin , a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in regulating mood. In fact, many antidepressants target serotonin production.
How she eats it: Armul adds spinach to a surprising range of dishes, blending a cup of it in smoothies (she says the spinach taste is overpowered by the sweet flavor of fruit), shredding it for taco and sandwich toppings and stirring it into eggs (when making omelets), pasta dishes and soups.
Beans may not instantly convey "I'm walking on sunshine!" but Cleveland-area nutritionist Kristin Kirkpatrick swears they can do wonders for her spirit. Here's why: their fiber and protein keep her satisfied for hours and prevent a dramatic drop in blood sugar -- which is a surefire mood downer.
How she eats it: Kirkpatrick makes edamame hummus, which she says is so thick and rich-tasting, she feels like she's eating bad-for-you comfort food, when really it's one of the healthiest snacks you can indulge in. She likes to scoop up the dip with high-protein almond crackers.
Carbs -- Really!
There may be a scientific reason we crave starchy foods when we're feeling low, Kristen Gradney, director of nutrition and metabolic services at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, points out. One hypothesis suggests carbohydrates can help your brain produce serotonin, which, as we noted earlier, regulates moods. Complex carbs, such as whole grains and starchy vegetables, take longer to digest, making them a sort of "time-release" happy pill.
How she eats it: Stick to whole grain pastas and breads, says Gradney; they'll stay with you longer. She also likes sweet potatoes as a picker-upper; there are so many healthy ways to eat them.
When it comes to autopilot dinners, pasta with tomato sauce and a salad tops the list. But it isn't necessarily the healthiest meal -- that is, unless you make it Kristin Kirkpatrick's way. The wellness manager at <a href="https://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/wellness" target="_blank">Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute</a> is a fan of <a href="http://www.explorecuisine.com/en/products/bean-pastas.html" target="_blank">bean-based pastas</a>, which are often made solely with black beans. They're higher in protein and fiber, and lower in carbs, than traditional pasta. Kirkpatrick tosses the noodles with tomato sauce or garlic-infused olive oil. For salad, she uses prewashed greens, such as kale, that are already cleaned and chopped, mixes in nuts or hemp seeds and dresses the greens with high-quality oil and vinegar.