ANKENY, Iowa — The winter blues may be in full swing, but there are foods that can actually improve your mood! However, eat for sustained energy, not quick- fix stimulation. Coffee, tea and chocolate may make you happy, but they often lead to blood sugar (and mood) crashes later. High quality foods help produce chemicals in your brain that can improve not only your mood, but also your memory, energy level and sleep.
Choose complex over refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates (things made with white flour) are digested quickly, causing your blood sugar to spike, then drop. This leaves you cranky, tired, and reaching for more to eat. Instead, eat whole grains, veggies, fruit, and legumes for complex carbohydrates and fiber to decrease blood sugar swings.
Eat protein at each meal. Heart healthy, lean protein helps your brain release dopamine and norepinephrine shortly after you eat. Effect: you are more alert and focused for hours.
Get enough vitamin D. This sunshine vitamin has been linked to decreased depression and cancer risk. Make sure you are getting enough by consuming plenty of fish with bones, low fat dairy, fortified soy milk and egg yolks. (If you are considering a supplement, speak with your health care provider to determine what is best for you).
Develop a consistent eating pattern. Make sure you start your day off with breakfast within 90 minutes of waking up. Throughout the day, eat every 3-4 hours for constant energy and fuel. Try Almond-Honey Power Bars for a wholesome breakfast or snack anytime (see recipe).
Exercise. The effects of exercise, like better sleep, improved mood and better overall outlook, can last up to 24 hours after exercise. Try to be physically active every day and stay hydrated with plenty of water, fruits, veggies and calorie-free beverages.