By Robin Silver 

Food and diet can be challenging to talk about. It is personal; it is universal. It is sustenance; it is entertainment; it is memory, culture, and so much more. It is an inescapable part of daily life no matter who you are, where you live, or what your lifestyle is like.

The foods or types of foods we choose to eat obviously has an effect on our bodily compositions and energy levels. But as mental health becomes a more mainstream and, in today’s chaotic and modern world, crucial subject, we need to think and talk a bit more about the effects our diets have on our minds. Here are some changes you can make in your diet to have a positive benefit on your mental health.

Just Say No to Processed Protein

Protein is an essential part of the human diet, and it releases dopamine and norepinephrine, which help give you energy and enhance your ability to focus. While a deli sandwich or a pepperoni pizza might be delicious, all the salt and fat adding to the mouth-watering appeal, your body and mind will be better off if you pass. Leaner meats or legumes are a smarter choice.

When it comes to protein, especially animal protein, a little goes a long way. A recent study showed that reducing meat and fish intake, or eliminating it altogether, had a positive impact on the moods of the test subjects. Even if you don’t forgo meat entirely, eating it a few times a week instead of at every meal and choosing organically farmed products can do a lot for your waistline, your mood, and even the environment—and that in itself can be a mood booster!

You’re Sweet Enough Already

The state of our blood sugar has a huge impact on how we feel. If blood sugar is consistently high, you may be prone to irritability. If blood sugar is consistently low, you are at risk of depression, anxiety, and lethargy. 

The initial spike in blood sugar that we get from indulging in a sweet treat can lead to a sugar rush and a serious case of the giggles, but the sudden drop after the initial burst of energy has gone can leave you feeling tired, sluggish, and irritable. Of course, desserts are one culprit, as are sodas and other junk foods, but sugar hides in many places. Your morning glass of orange juice, long thought of as a healthy choice, spikes your blood sugar in the same way. Refined white flour can have a similar effect.

If you think candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker, you may want to have a think on that as well, especially if you are fond of fruity cocktails or other mixed drinks. Your body converts alcohol, as well as all other carbohydrates, into sugar once it’s in your system. Alcohol intake also prevents the liver from releasing glucose, which is what helps your body regulate its internal blood sugars. If you’re a binge drinker, you could even end up with hypoglycemia—which could explain some of the physical shakiness and mental fog you experience the morning after. Drinking may help you get to sleep, but reduces REM sleep, which means you can awaken from a full eight hours without feeling rested. 

Perhaps you still want to have a glass of wine with dinner or a slice of cake at a birthday party. It may be fine to indulge every once in a while, but if you notice that these incidents usually precede a period of crankiness, you may want to forgo them entirely. Your taste buds may be disappointed, but your mood (and your family and friends) will be grateful!

Timing is Everything

Keeping your blood sugar more or less stable throughout the day will help keep your mood and energy levels stable, too. Eating at regular intervals and not skipping meals will help sustain your body with a steady source of fuel.

It’s Simple– Choose Complex Carbs

While we are not advocating for going gluten-free altogether (unless you have an allergy or sensitivity), the carbs that you do choose can have a serious effect on your mood. When presented with the option for wholewheat bread or white bread, select the wholewheat. Beans and vegetables are other examples of complex carbohydrates.

The reason these foods are so beneficial is that after eating complex carbs, there is an uptick in the amount of serotonin your body releases. Instead of the sugar high, you get a more sustained, constant mood-lifting effect. 

Do What’s Best for You

Everyone’s body responds differently to different foods. If you suspect that your bad moods and low energy might respond well to changing what’s on your plate, keep a food diary for a couple of weeks. Record how you feel before and after each meal as well as what you actually ate.

It’s likely, a pattern will arise, helping you determine what should stay, what should go, and what you should limit—your own personal metric. Of course, whole grains and lots of fruits and veggies are best for everyone, but the specifics of what works is truly up to you!