Food and your mood: What's good, what's bad

Metro Detroit dietitian reveals why comfort foods improve our mood, what will continue to lift people's moods

DETROIT - Food can help improve mood if a person is not just thinking about what they are eating but when they are eating it.

"As Americans we tend to eat a light breakfast, light lunch and then eat too much at dinner time and snacking in the evening, but if we could learn to balance the intake over the day that gives us the energy that we need and helps with our mood," said Bethany Thayer.

Thayer, a registered dietitian with the Henry Ford Health System in metro Detroit, said anyone who has gone too long without eating knows its hard to feel at your best when your stomach is growling and your hands are shaking because you haven't had enough to eat.

"If your blood sugars are on a roller coaster, you're not going to feel well," said Thayer.

Thayer said serotonin levels in the brain are what makes people feel good and to maximize them people should eat lean proteins and healthy grains.

She also recommends selenium.

"Selenium is one that has found if you're deficient you might be a little more prone to depression. So foods that are good sources of selenium are your nuts, specifically brazil nuts are high in selenium, your mushrooms and some of your lean proteins," said Thayer.

Everyone seems to have a "go to" food when they are stressed and upset.

"When I am mad, when I am sad, it is always something sweet. It is always some form of fatty sugar, I don't know, it is just comforting I guess, Oreos," said Dayna Harris of Detroit.

"Comfort food, cheese," said Dave Schoemer of Clarkston.

"Lots of salty foods is pretty much what does it for me," said Kyle Jarois, from Royal Oak. "My go-to is Hot Cheetos."

"Chocolate always lifts my mood," said Charlotte Russell from Detroit.

Can those comfort foods actually make you feel better?  Thayer said when these foods lift your mood it's usually psychological.

"When people choose comfort foods they usually have some sort of a reference to it. So for example, when you're not feeling well and your mom gives you chicken noodle soup, then chicken noodle soup brings back those memories of mom taking care of you," said Thayer. "Chocolate, the first time you have chocolate, it tastes good, you feel good because it tastes good, and that can bring back some of those memories."

Thayer also warned there are foods that can have a negative effect on mood.

"So foods that are high in sodium, for example your Chinese meals, your processed foods that tend to have a little more sodium in them, and that can lead to swelling and that can make your heart have to work a little bit harder and not feel quite as good," said Thayer.

Vitamins and minerals might not help either.

"You're probably not going to get any real mood advancement from taking a specific vitamin or mineral supplement. So eating the foods, eating them regularly throughout the day so that your blood sugars are stable, making sure they're partnered with a protein and a good source of carbohydrates so your maximizing the serotonin, all of those things are going to help with that mood," said Thayer.

Thayer says be careful with alcohol and caffeine because people might get an instant boost but alcohol is a depressant and you will eventually come down from a caffeine high.

Experts suggest getting enough sleep, about seven to eight hours a day, and exercise, even 20 minutes daily, can lift someone's mood.

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