How to eat to control mood swings


When you're feeling blue, do you turn to friends like Ben & Jerry for comfort? Dietician and author Elizabeth Somer shows you which foods really can lift your spirits and help control mood swings. Sadly, Chunky Monkey isn't one of them.

How to eat to control mood swings
  • Don't skip meals. It leads to mood problems and uncontrolled eating binges later in the day that accent the mood problem. Even if you are going to a party later in the day, start each day with a nutritious breakfast — a bowl of whole grain cereal with a little milk and a piece of fruit. Eating regularly during the day not only keeps your blood sugar high, but also provides needed fuel for your brain.
  • There are certain foods that will boost your mood, particularly if your blue mood is a result of low serotonin levels, for instance, an all-carbs snack. In mid-afternoon, try eating a bowl of air-popped popcorn, a half an English muffin with a little honey or a cinnamon-raison bagel with a little jam. Don’t binge and eat a large quantity of carbs, as this will cause your mood to crash.
  • Over time, foods rich in Omega-3 oils also help to increase your serotonin levels, and this helps with mood and thinking ability. (While lowering your risk for heart attacks!) If you can't — or don’t want to — eat fish like salmon a couple of times a week, look for DHA-fortified foods like Gold Circle Farms eggs, Silk Plus DHA soy milk, Oh Mama nutrition bars or Minute Maid's new blueberry and pomegranate juice drink. Look for algae-based or algal DHA fortified foods, not just Omega-3 fortified. It’s the DHA that’s important.
  • These DHA-fortified foods work over weeks, and you should consume 200 milligrams per day to get maximum protection against plummeting mood swings. DHA is available as a supplement, but serotonin is not.
  • Protein-rich foods block the serotonin effect. If you’re looking for a short-term boost, stick with a small all-carb snack. And remember, what you eat for breakfast this morning can affect how you'll feel this afternoon!

LISA: I'm Lisa Birnbach for howdini. The holidays are an up time but in preparation for them and sometimes for a lot of us it is also a very down time filled with unforeseeable depression. There are foods you can eat to modify your depression.
Elizabeth Somer is with us she is a dietician and the author of Food and Mood.
Elizabeth, please help. What can we eat that will help temper our moods?

ELIZABETH: You know it is interesting because often we feel the worst we also eat at our worst and just cause sort of a vicious cycle. But there are things you can do. For instance, don't skip meals - big mistake. People that skip meals are much more likely to battle mood problems later in the day, uncontrollable eating binges that just accent the mood problem. So even if you are going to a party tonight have something light in the morning and I'm not talking a donut and a cup of coffee but maybe a bowl of whole grain cereal with a little bit of milk and a piece of fruit and then eat regularly throughout the day. To keep, not only your blood sugar levels high, but also the fuel for your brain high. And then there are certain foods that will boost your mood. If your mood is down because a chemical in the brain called serotonin is low, that's usually when people are depressed. You can boost serotonin levels with an all carb snack. So say mid-afternoon you start craving something, have a bowl of air popped popcorn or half an English muffin with a little bit of honey drizzled over the top or cinnamon raisin bagel with a little bit of jam on it. That will actually boost serotonin levels and might help your mood a little bit.

LISA: I think that anytime you can eat a carb you are going to feel happier. Until you feel worse! Can you crash from a carb?

ELIZABETH: Well, if you are eating a platter, that’s a whole different thing and that is a binge. It doesn't take a lot of carbs to get that serotonin boost so you know it is a couple of cups of popcorn, air-popped, not buttered. Not the entire bag. And there are other things you can do, we know from a lot of research that the Omega 3 fatty acids that you have heard about that are in fish, not only lower your risk for heart disease but also boost those serotonin levels and improve mood and even thinking ability. So if you can have a little bit of salmon several times a week that's great but if you're a vegetarian or you can't afford a lot of salmon or you don't like fish or whatever, then look for foods that are fortified with what's called algae based or algal DHA. That's the Omega 3 DHA that will help boost your mood and your memory. You can find it in a variety of foods.

LISA: I actually just saw a carton of eggs that said that these eggs were boosted with Omega 3.

ELIZABETH: Yeah, but they’re not always the DHA so that's the trick. You want that, it will say, it'll have a stamp on the label like life's DHA on it and that's what you want because there is other Omega 3's like they make Omega 3's that you get in soy or you get in walnuts or flaxseed that won't boost your mood. They're great for your heart but won't give you the mind and mental boost and mood boost. So look for foods, Gold Circle farm eggs, you mentioned the eggs have that DHA in it. Silk Plus DHA soy milk, Oh Mama nutrition bars, Minute Maid makes a new fruit juice, a Blueberry Pomegranate, I think, juice that has that DHA in it. And that does really help boost both memory and mood.

LISA: Now when you consume it, how much do you have to have to really feel a kind of lightness of mood?

ELIZABETH: Well with the DHA it's going to be over the long haul, so just start eating, include at least 200 mg of that DHA in your daily diet and you will notice over the course of weeks that your mood isn't plummeting as deep as it normally would.

LISA: Oh, that's fantastic.

ELIZABETH: The effect that you get with a carbs you actually get immediately, like within an hour of having that air-popped popcorn, you may see a boost in your mood because it has a direct effect immediately on serotonin whereas the Omega 3 has more of a long term effect.

LISA: Now you can take Omega 3 or maybe even DHA as a vitamin or as a supplement?

ELIZABETH: Yes, as a supplement.

LISA: Serotonin? Does that come in some kind of?

ELIZABETH: No. It is a protein.

LISA: Not in this country?

ELIZABETH: No, not in this country! We used to be able to get a Tryptophan supplement, which is the building block; it's an amino acid – a protein fragment.

LISA: That's in turkey, isn't it?

ELIZABETH: It's in turkey, but believe it or not, even though it is the holidays and we're thinking turkey, turkey will not boost serotonin levels. Even though it contains the building block for serotonin it's a protein rich food and protein rich foods block that serotonin effect. So you need the all carb snack to get there.

LISA: Well I think it's interesting that foods can actually affect your mood to the extent that you say they can. Because I think again, with mindless eating we don't realize that we are also going up, going down, going up, and going down.

ELIZABETH: Oh absolutely. You know I think most people know if they don't get enough calcium that over the course of decades it will lead to osteoporosis or if they eat too much saturated fat that they may some day down the road end up with heart disease. But the link with food and mood is much more immediate. Literally what you eat and don't eat for breakfast will affect how you feel mid-afternoon.

LISA: Thank you so much.
For howdini, I'm Lisa Birnbach.

meet theexpert
  • Elizabeth Somer

    Elizabeth Somer Registered Dietician and Author Elizabeth Somer is a Registered Dietician and author of several books, including Age-Proof Your Body and Food & Mood. She is Editor-in-Chief of Nutrition Alert, a newsletter summarizing the current research from more than 6,000 journals. more about this expert »

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