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In a culture that may rely excessively on medication, it’s easy to overlook the power of dietary choices to improve not only physical well-being, but emotional well being. Whether you are experiencing the regular ups and downs of adolescence, a major life trauma, or an ongoing mood disorder, food choices can have a powerful impact on your moods and ability to navigate emotional bumps.

Educating yourself about “mood foods” can empower you to deal more effectively with the daunting emotional challenges of life.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: These fatty acids are clinically proven to positively impact mood-particularly depression. Eating fish that is rich in omega 3 and/or taking an omega 3 supplement-flax seed, chia seeds, and, especially, high EPA fish oil-can noticeably relieve depression symptoms.

Protein: If your mood tends to dip after a lunchtime meal, you can try decreasing carbohydrates and increasing protein for that meal, for instance by eating a salad with fish or chicken instead of a sandwich. Too many mid-day carbohydrates can make your insulin level spike and then crash which increases symptoms of fatigue and depression. Too many morning carbohydrates, especially if you’re not a morning person or have depressive symptoms, can keep you in your morning slump for longer. Protein can impact norepinephrine and dopamine levels, which are linked to alertness and concentration. Proteins also take longer to break down which helps keep insulin levels even.

Mini- Meals: Most people eat one or two large meals a day, which leads to fluctuations in blood sugar and brain chemistry throughout the day. Try eating the same number of calories as usual, but in six or more mini-meals.

Hint: One way to do this is to eat half of what’s on your plate for a meal and save it to eat as a snack a couple of hours later.

Whole Grains: Whole grains release their store of carbohydrates more gradually than processed grains, keeping your blood sugar and serotonin levels more stable after and between meals; this can positively impact your mood and brain functioning.

Hydration: Not only has chugging a big glass of water in the morning been shown to help one lose weight (as much as a pound per month!), it is also critical for mood regulation and normal brain, organ, and muscle function. The mind-body connection is strong, and this discipline of hydrating can powerfully impact your sensitivity to depression and anxiety, and can improve your concentration.

Morning Oats: Oatmeal and other slow-burning complex carbohydrates impact serotonin levels, which are linked to anxiety. Oatmeal in the morning can be a great choice of breakfast for those who tend toward anxiety.

Milk: Whey protein is linked to the alleviation of depressive symptoms, so try a big glass of milk when you are feeling blue.

Folic Acid: Eating foods rich in folic acid, such as spinach and lentils, helps keep serotonin levels stable in your brain, alleviating anxiety and keeping your mood steady.

Food can be an important factor in keeping your brain chemistry, and therefore mood, on an even keel. Since everyone’s body and brain chemistry are different, it’s important that you experiment with healthy dietary choices, paying attention to what you eat and how it makes you feel. A nutritionist or dietitian can help identify a personalized eating strategy for mood regulation and health. An ongoing or intensive struggle with mood should be assessed by a psychologist and psychiatrist for treatment recommendations.