Food for Mood: Building Emotional Balance With the Way You Eat

Nutritious food, carefully prepared and mindfully eaten, can influence our mood states and overall health

| July/August 2009

  • Make your own nondairy ice cream in two hours–no icream machine needed!
    Photo by Joe Lavine
  • Filled with omega-3s and anti-oxidants, this tempeh stir-fry is a healthy, summery meal.
    Photo by Joe Lavine
  • This hearty vegetarian sandwich is loaded with healthy fat, lean protein and whole grains.
    Photo by Joe Lavine

Considered the “father of modern medicine,” the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates advised, “Let food be thy medicine.” Before we had medicine, humans collected foods—often berries, bark and herbs—and made teas, poultices and potions to build strength and restore health. (And it was a piece of moldy bread that led to the discovery of penicillin.)

Our mood states are part of overall health, and their influence on the body’s functioning—the ability to fight off infection, to regenerate cells, to recuperate from illness and accidents—is profound. Nutritious food, carefully prepared and mindfully eaten, could be our natural Prozac. 

Anxiety and stress

Stress-related complaints—sleep disorders, headaches, gastrointestinal problems and heart disease, among others—are the No. 1 reason Americans visit doctors. Foods high in iron and B vitamins, such as avocados, whole grains and soy, help the body replenish what stress depletes.

Depression

Western medicine attributes depression to a disruption in the flow of certain brain chemicals (serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine), which can be brought on by an event, genetic factors or some combination of the two.



Many Eastern medicinal traditions say depression is centered in the liver, which influences digestive and general health. Eating liver-supportive foods such as onions, garlic, cruciferous vegetables and herbs such as turmeric and dandelion can help keep the liver functioning well. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which stimulate antidepressive brain chemicals, can naturally improve mood. 

Grief

During a period of grief, people can experience wide-ranging effects, from sleeplessness to oversleeping, lack of appetite to overeating, depression to intense agitation. Eating healthy comfort foods and high-quality proteins such as lean meats and soy products helps ensure physical health when you’re grieving.



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