Crank-Proof Your Diet: 5 Good-Mood Foods

Some of the best weapons to help cure crankiness can be found in your local grocery store.

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Do you have a short fuse when it comes to dealing with life’s everyday stressors, such as your boss, your spouse, or even your kids? Do you reach for food or caffeine during the day in an attempt to feel calm, or find a jolt of energy or a moment of bliss? But above all else, do you just really crave a better mood? If you want to feel significantly less cranky, then read on.

Seek Energy Not Stimulation

While good habits such as eating breakfast every morning and regular meals and snacks throughout the day form the cornerstone of an energized outlook, science has increasingly revealed the vital ways in which our food impacts our mood. And it may surprise you that some of the best weapons to help cure crankiness can be found in your local grocery store. 

The following foods will help your mood in two ways. First, they deliver several key nutrients that play a vital role in supporting brain chemistry to reduce the risk of depression and help improve the quality of your sleep. And they do something equally important as well: Powerful combinations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants help you build up your energy and capacity to handle life from your body’s deepest levels (your cell’s metabolic and energy pathways). This is what we should all aim for, rather than a quick burst of stimulation from a sugar or caffeine fix that ultimately leaves you feeling cranky or tired. Try making these feel-good foods a part of a delicious new happiness routine.

Salmon

In order for your brain to function optimally, it needs to have the right nutrient building blocks available, and omega-3 fats are one of the most important when it comes to boosting your mood. The brain is 60% fat, and particularly loves omega-3 fats. Most Americans get far too little omega-3 in their diet. And what’s the problem with that? Growing evidence suggests that consuming inadequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with depression and poor moods. 

Fatty fish like salmon is one of nature’s richest sources of omega-3 fats; for a mood lift, enjoy fatty fish 2-3 times each week. Odds are you’ll be happier company, as studies have found that people who infrequently eat fish are more likely to suffer from depression. For an extra “heaping of happiness,” coat the salmon with crushed hemp seeds (available in the natural foods section of most grocery stores) and top it with a radish sprout salad. Both the seeds and the sprouts are rich in vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fats to further bolster mood, brain power and immunity. Click here for the recipe.

By eating this way, you’ll enjoy a double brain benefit, too: not only do foods rich in omega-3 fat help fight crankiness and improve your outlook today, they help you maintain a robust memory and significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia as you age.

Mushrooms Exposed to UV Light 

Vitamin D is another key part of “mood maintenance” because it helps regulate the activity of the brain’s neurotransmitters (serotonin, melatonin and dopamine) which have a profound impact on mood. Studies have found the likelihood of having depression is significantly higher in people with a deficiency in vitamin D compared to those who have normal levels. Chances are, you or someone you know might be deficient and not even know it (a blood test is required); by some estimates, over 50% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, making it a critical component in a crank-proof diet.

While it can be difficult to meet the RDA for vitamin D through food alone (600 IU for people ages 19-70), one fantastic food that has recently come to a supermarket near you is vitamin D-packed mushrooms. These are mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light, which naturally boosts the vitamin D level; one cup of these mushrooms packs 100% of the RDA (look for this on the label). Serve these mushrooms over couscous for an easy and delicious dinner; couscous is rich in selenium, another nutrient that has been linked to improved mood.

Tart Cherries

Savor a handful of dried tart cherries before you turn in for the night and you’ll set the stage for a better mood when you wake up. Tart cherries are rich in a hormone called melatonin, which acts as a natural sleep aid by improving quality of sleep. As we age, our body’s natural ability to produce melatonin decreases (one reason why seniors can find it harder to sleep soundly), and things like stress or artificial light can also lower melatonin. Here’s an added bonus: cherries’ powerful bundle of antioxidants helps protect your brain from free radicals, which enables your brain chemistry to be optimized for a good mood.

Amaranth

Amaranth is a delicious “ancient grain” to try if you haven’t yet added it to your shopping list. This supergrain is loaded with antioxidants, minerals, fiber and iron, and was considered a life-sustaining food of the ancient Aztec and Inca cultures. 

Whole grains are a key part of any crank-proof diet, as the carbohydrates in whole grains help raise levels of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, which acts as the body’s natural antidepressant. The fiber in amaranth also helps keep blood sugar stable, so you feel more alert and energized longer. This is a key reason to choose whole grains over refined grains and sweets when looking for a mood boost; sugary treats often trigger blood sugar to spike and plummet, leading to crankiness and faster fatigue. Look for amaranth in the bulk section of your grocery store or in the natural foods aisle.

For a fun twist, try amaranth popcorn: Simply put a dry medium skillet over medium high heat, and when hot, add 2 tbsp amaranth seeds. COVER QUICKLY with a lid so it doesn’t pop everywhere! Gently shake back and forth, and the grains will quickly pop into “micro popcorn” in about 10 seconds. Pour into a dish and repeat with another 2 tbsp. Dust with cinnamon for an added antioxidant and flavor boost.

Medjool Dates

Nearly all of the cranky viewers Dr. Oz and I spoke with sought out sweets at some point during their day. Who doesn’t like to feel that quick pick-me-up that sweetness can bring? The downside is the sheer amount most of us are eating: Americans consume more than 22 teaspoons of sugar each day, according to a 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

While the initial rush of sugar can indeed perk you up, it ultimately leads to that inevitable crash and the crankiness that comes with it. A sweeter fix for your sweet tooth is to try medjool dates. Their rich, creamy texture and super-sweet taste still give you that rush of satisfying pleasure. But unlike that candy bar, dates are chockfull of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to keep your energy up in a more sustained way. 

Try my Decadent Chocolate Fix, made with dates and which tastes like a dark, fudgy pudding or cookie dough. It's simple to make and delivers another powerful mood booster: cocoa powder. Aside from all the health benefits of cocoa for the cardiovascular system (mainly in the form of flavonoids), the reason cocoa often gives an instant feeling of happiness is due to the rush of dopamine that triggers the brain’s pleasure receptors, and endorphins which provide a natural high kind of feeling. As with any sweet treat, even this one should be eaten in modest portions because it is high in calories, but at least you can go to the dark side in a delicious, healthy way.

Click here for the recipe.