woman eating salad

You know that if you eat a sweet snack--like a candy bar or sugary donut--you'll get a spike of energy, soon followed by crashing low. Sugar highs and lows are just one of the many ways food can affect how you feel.

But have you ever considered which eating habits and specific foods might help you to feel happier and more energized? Recent research helps illuminate the role food plays in influencing your mood.

What to Do
There's more to mood maintenance than eating the right foods. The framework for good mood hygiene begins with implementing some basic nutrition strategies:

  • Eat often enough. According to research reported by NBC News, you should eat every four to five hours to keep your blood sugar levels steady. Eating at regular intervals helps to ensure that your body has a continuous source of fuel, and this may assist in keeping your mood stable. If you feel like your blood sugar might be dipping frequently, talk to your doctor, since this could be a sign of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is a health condition that causes people to need to eat frequently.
  • Don't skip meals. Though it may be tempting to rush out the door without breakfast, Psychology Today reports that starting the day without fuel--or bypassing any meal--is a mistake. If you keep yourself from getting too hungry, you may be able to avoid a bad mood.
  • Know what to avoid. Before you can eat mood-boosting foods, it's important to know which foods to leave off (or limit) on your shopping list. The biggest bad-mood culprits are refined carbohydrates, like sugar. The simple sugars that are in junk foods like candy and soda--as well as in everyday foods like fruit juice, syrup, and jams--can cause your blood sugar to go up and down like a roller coaster. Refined white starches such as white rice, white bread, and crackers can have the same effect. Blood sugar spikes and drops can leave you with a short-lived burst of energy followed by a tired, cranky feeling. For best mood results, you should also avoid alcohol, since it's a depressant and can disturb your sleep.

What to Eat
Here are some of the best foods to eat to stay healthy and happy:

  • Protein. Adding protein to your meals can help slow the absorption of carbohydrates in your blood, which may improve your mood for several hours after eating. Eggs, poultry, seafood, tofu, and low-fat yogurt are all smart protein choices.
  • Vitamins. There are a few specific vitamins that research has suggested can be helpful for mood. Research reported by NBC News shows that vitamin D may help relieve mood disorders, such as seasonal affective disorder. Studies have also suggested that the vitamins folate and B12 may help ease depression. To get your daily dose of vitamin D, try low-fat milk, egg yolks, and soymilk. Many doctors also recommend adding a multivitamin that contains vitamin D. Broccoli, lentils, oatmeal, and oranges are high in folate, while cottage cheese, lean beef, and salmon can provide vitamin B12.
  • Fiber. Foods that contain soluble fiber--such as brown rice, barley, pears, and peas--can slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, decreasing mood swings.

HealthAhead Hint: Putting It All Together
There's a clear relationship between food and your state of mind. When you combine strategies for eating regularly with foods that may have a positive effect on your well-being, you can plan meals that may help you to feel better. Plus, you can also avoid foods that may make you feel worse. Now that's something to be happy about!