If you find yourself feeling irritable or sluggish, your diet may need a tune-up. How you eat – and when – can have a huge impact on how you feel. To keep your energy levels up and your mood on an even keel, follow these savvy nutrition tips.
Start your day with a healthy breakfast. It really is the most important meal of the day. Power up with a serving or two of whole grains, fruit (preferably whole fruit, rather than juice) and a high-protein food, such as low-fat yogurt, cheese or a little lean meat. The carbohydrates (grain and fruit) will kick-start your metabolism and give your brain fuel to function all morning long, and the protein will help you stay satisfied until lunchtime.
Don’t skip meals. Try to eat every four to five hours to provide your body with a constant source of fuel and help prevent the hunger pangs that leave you feeling tired, cranky and ready to devour anything in sight.
Strive for balance. Be sure your meals include lean, high-protein foods and plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Such foods take longer to digest, keep you satisfied longer and are more likely to keep you feeling energized. Overall, protein should make up 15 percent of your calories, fat should make up 30 percent or less and grains about 55 percent.
Eat more fish. Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids found in fish may help alleviate the symptoms of some mental disorders. In one study, participants who had lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were more likely to report mild or moderate symptoms of depression. Get your dose of omega-3 fats from foods including oily fish (salmon, mackerel and sardines), ground flaxseeds, canola oil, walnuts and omega-3-fortified eggs.
Get your vitamin Bs. Studies suggest that low blood levels of two B vitamins – folate and vitamin B12 – are sometimes related to depression. Foods rich in folate include whole-grain breakfast cereals, lentils, black-eyed peas, soybeans, oatmeal, dark leafy greens, beets, broccoli, sunflower seeds, wheat germ and oranges. Foods rich in vitamin B12 include shellfish (clams, oysters, crab), wild salmon (fresh or canned), fortified whole-grain breakfast cereal, lean beef, cottage cheese, low-fat yogurt, milk and eggs.
Hydrate. To stay healthy and feel your best, you need plenty of water throughout the day. Watch for signs of dehydration, such as impatience, difficulty concentrating and impaired physiological performance.
Try to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. Be aware that diuretics such as caffeinated and alcoholic beverages can contribute to dehydration, so follow them up with a chaser of water! Eating lots of fruits and vegetables will also boost your fluid intake, as they contain substantial amounts of water.
Learn the difference between true hunger and emotional eating. Many people turn to food to suppress negative emotions, such as stress, anger, boredom, sadness or anxiety. Others use food to reward themselves. Whatever the reason, it’s important to recognize whether you’re eating because you’re hungry or because of some emotional need. Knowing why you’re eating is the first step in gaining control over your eating habits.
Once you’ve identified the emotional issues that trigger your eating, you can focus on finding more appropriate, nonfood ways to manage them. For instance, try deep breathing or meditation, call a friend or go for a brisk walk.
EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.