Healthy eating and your mood
What is a healthy diet?
Eating a healthy diet doesn’t have to be overly complicated. While some specific foods or nutrients have been shown to have a beneficial effect on mood, it’s your overall dietary pattern that is most important. The cornerstone of a healthy diet pattern should be to replace processed food with real food whenever possible. Eating food that is as close as possible to the way nature made it can make a huge difference to the way you think, look, and feel.
The Healthy Eating Pyramid
The Harvard Healthy Eating Pyramid represents the latest nutritional science. The widest part at the bottom is for things that are most important. The foods at the narrow top are those that should be eaten sparingly, if at all. This Healthy Eating Pyramid shows daily exercise and weight control in the widest, most important category. Fats from healthy sources, such as plants, are in the wider part of the pyramid. Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and white rice, are in the narrow top. Red meat should also be eaten sparingly, while fish, poultry, and eggs are healthier choices.
Building your healthy diet
While some extreme diets may suggest otherwise, we all need a balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals in our diets to sustain a healthy body. You don’t need to eliminate certain categories of food from your diet, but rather select the healthiest options from each category.
Protein gives you the energy to get up and go also supporting mood and cognitive function.
Fat. Not all fat is the same. While bad fats can wreck your diet and increase your risk of certain diseases, good fats protect your brain and heart.
Fiber. Eating foods high in dietary fiber (grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and beans) can help you stay regular and lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Calcium. As well as leading to osteoporosis, not getting enough calcium in your diet can also contribute to anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties.
Making the switch to healthy eating
Switching to a healthy diet doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to completely eliminate foods you enjoy. And you don’t have to change everything all at once—that usually only leads to cheating or giving up.
A better approach is to make a few small changes at a time. Keep your goals modest. You can achieve more in the long term without feeling deprived or overwhelmed by a major diet overhaul.
Setting yourself up for success
To set yourself up for success, try to keep things simple. Eating a healthier diet doesn’t have to be complicated. Focus on avoiding packaged and processed foods and opting for more fresh ingredients whenever possible.
Prepare more of your own meals. Cooking more meals at home can help you take charge of what you’re eating. As well as better monitor exactly what goes into your food.
Make the right changes. When cutting back on unhealthy foods in your diet, it’s important to replace them with healthy alternatives.
Read the labels. It’s important to be aware of what’s in your food. Manufacturers often hide large amounts of sugar or unhealthy fats in packaged food, even food claiming to be healthy.
Focus on how you feel after eating. This will help foster healthy new habits and tastes. The healthier the food you eat, the better you’ll feel after a meal. The more junk food you eat, the more likely you are to feel uncomfortable, nauseous, or drained of energy.
Drink plenty of water. Water helps flush our systems of waste products and toxins. It’s common to mistake thirst for hunger, so staying well hydrated will also help you make healthier food choices.
Moderation: important to any healthy diet
What is moderation? In essence, it means eating only as much food as your body needs. You should feel satisfied at the end of a meal, but not stuffed. For many of us, moderation means eating less than we do now. But it doesn’t mean eliminating the foods you love.
Try not to think of certain foods as “off-limits.” When you ban certain foods, it’s natural to want those foods more. Start by reducing portion sizes of unhealthy foods and not eating them as often. As you reduce your intake of unhealthy foods, you may find yourself craving them less or thinking of them as only occasional indulgences.
Think smaller portions. Serving sizes have ballooned recently. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an entree, split a dish with a friend, and don’t order supersized anything. At home, visual cues can help with portion sizes. Your serving of meat, fish, or chicken should be the size of a deck of cards and half a cup of mashed potato, rice, or pasta is about the size of a traditional light bulb. By serving your meals on smaller plates or in bowls, you can trick your brain into thinking it’s a larger portion. If you don’t feel satisfied at the end of a meal, add more leafy greens or round off the meal with fruit.
Take your time. It actually takes a few minutes for your brain to tell your body that it has had enough food, so eat slowly and stop eating before you feel full.
Eat with others whenever possible. Eating alone, especially in front of the TV or computer, often leads to mindless overeating.
Be careful about the foods you keep at hand. It’s more challenging to eat in moderation if you keep unhealthy snacks and treats at hand. Instead, surround yourself with healthy choices.
Control emotional eating. We don’t always eat just to satisfy hunger. Many of us also turn to food to relieve stress or cope with unpleasant emotions. But by learning healthier ways to manage stress and emotions, you can regain control over the food you eat and your feelings
It’s not just what you eat, but when you eat
Eat breakfast. A healthy breakfast can jump-start your metabolism, while eating small, healthy meals keeps your energy up all day.
Avoid eating late at night. Try to eat dinner earlier and fast for 14-16 hours until breakfast the next morning. Studies suggest that eating only when you’re most active and giving your digestive system a long break each day may help to regulate weight.
Make fruit and vegetables a tasty part of your diet
Fruit and vegetables are low in calories and nutrient dense, which means they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Focus on eating the recommended daily amount of at least five servings of each. This will naturally fill you up and help you cut back on unhealthy foods. A serving is half a cup of raw fruit or veg or a small apple or banana, for example. Most of us need to double the amount we currently eat.
To increase your intake:
- Add antioxidant-rich berries to your favorite breakfast cereal
- Eat a medley of sweet fruit—oranges, mangoes, pineapple, grapes—for dessert
- Swap your usual rice or pasta side dish for a colorful salad
- Instead of eating processed snack foods, snack on vegetables along with a spicy hummus dip or peanut butter
How to make vegetables tasty
While plain salads and steamed veggies can quickly become bland, there are plenty of ways to add taste to your vegetable dishes.
Add color. Add color using fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, glazed carrots or beets, roasted red cabbage wedges, yellow squash, or sweet, colorful peppers.
Liven up salad greens. Branch out beyond lettuce. Kale, arugula, spinach, mustard greens, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage are all packed with nutrients. To add flavor to your salad greens, try drizzling with olive oil, adding a spicy dressing, or sprinkling with almond slices, chickpeas, Parmesan, or goat cheese.
Satisfy your sweet tooth. Naturally sweet vegetables—such as carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, yams, onions, bell peppers, and squash—add sweetness to your meals and reduce your cravings for added sugar.
Cook green beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus in new ways. Instead of boiling or steaming these healthy sides, try grilling, roasting, or pan frying them. Add chili flakes, garlic, shallots, mushrooms, or onion. Or marinate in tangy lemon or lime before cooking.
To start eating healthy check out The Fresh Plan