As the saying goes, you are what you eat. Feeling cranky or grumpy, lately? It may be the result of your diet. Recent studies have proven that certain foods have a direct impact on mood. Feeling drained or sleepy? It’s probably due to low blood sugar. However, don’t reach for that candy bar just yet! Although some foods, namely concentrated sources of sugar, provide an instant pick-me-up, the effects are only temporary. Soda, candy, and even fruit juice can cause huge spikes in blood sugar– and eventually, an even bigger crash. Carbohydrates like bagels, white bread, and crackers have a similar effect. According to nutritionist Joy Bauer, it’s best to substitute these empty carbs with nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, peas, lentils, oatmeal, and brown and wild rice.
Additionally, fiber is another surefire way to boost your mood. Soluble fibers slow down the absorption of sugar in your body, thus decreasing erratic spikes in blood sugar. Some great fiber sources include: oats, brown rice, barley, apples, pears, strawberries, oranges, sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, and beans.
Furthermore, there are key nutrients that can improve your mood. One is omega-3 fatty acids. Examples include: oily fish (such as salmon), ground flax seeds, canola oil, and walnuts.
Also, it’s been noted that a lack of folic acid and vitamin B12 are sometimes correlated with depression. Foods packed with folic acid include: fortified whole-grain breakfast cereals, lentils, black-eyed peas, soybeans, oatmeal, mustard greens, beets, broccoli, and sunflower seeds. Vitamin B12 rich foods include: shellfish, lean beef, cottage cheese, low-fat yogurt, milk, and eggs.
Finally, vitamin D, which increases the level of serotonin in the body, may help improve mood disorders. Fish, fat free and low-fat milk, fortified soy milk, and egg yolks are all great sources of vitamin D.
Don’t know how to incorporate all of these foods into your daily diet? Check out these six recipes for inspiration.
1. Honey Teriyaki Chicken Fingers with Sesame Seeds with Sesame Cellophane Noodles and Snap Peas
- Cooking spray
- 1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
- 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into thin strips
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds, lightly toasted
- 8 ounces cellophane noodles, soaked in hot water until tender
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 4 cups snap peas, steamed
Coat a stove-top grill pan or griddle with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat.
In a shallow dish, whisk together soy sauce, honey, molasses, ginger, garlic, liquid smoke seasoning, and black pepper. Add chicken strips and turn to coat. Place chicken on hot grill and cook five to seven minutes, until cooked through, turning once during cooking. Remove chicken from grill pan and roll in toasted sesame seeds.
Drain cellophane noodles and toss with cilantro and sesame oil. Serve chicken with noodles and snap peas.
Serve four of the chicken breast halves (about six strips per serving) with all of the noodles and snap peas, and reserve extra chicken for another meal.
2. Grilled Salmon Salad
- Orange Vinaigrette, recipe follows
- 20 asparagus spears
- 4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 pound baby salad greens
- 1 cup kalamata olives, sliced in half
- 2 oranges, peeled and segmented
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
Preheat grill. Place a medium pot of water on the stove to boil. While the grill heats and the water comes to a boil, prepare the Orange Vinaigrette, and set aside until needed.
Trim the bottoms of the asparagus and cook for 30 seconds in the boiling water. Remove from the pot to a plate.
Place the salmon fillets on a large plate and coat with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Put the salmon fillets on the hottest part of the grill, starting with the skinless side down. Grill for about 5 to 10 minutes on each side, or until desired temperature.
While the salmon is grilling, combine the salad greens, olives, oranges, onions, and half of the vinaigrette into a large bowl. Toss to combine. Divide the salad mixture evenly among 4 plates.
When the salmon is nearly done, coat the asparagus with the remaining olive oil, salt, and pepper. Put the asparagus on the grill. Grill lightly, moving the spears around the heat frequently with tongs, for about three minutes.
Remove the salmon and asparagus from the grill and distribute them evenly among the four plates on top of the greens mixture. Drizzle the remaining dressing over the salmon and serve.
- 2 oranges
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
- 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon orange oil (recommended: Boyajian Orange Oil*)
Zest the oranges with a zester or the fine side of a box grater. Finely chop the zest with a knife, then squeeze the juice out of the oranges into a small stainless steel bowl. Add the zest, shallots, brown sugar, and rice vinegar to the orange juice and whisk together. Slowly, in a steady stream, add the canola oil and extra-virgin olive oil while constantly whisking, until combined. Add the salt, pepper, and orange oil; the orange oil is strong, so just a very small amount is needed. Set the dressing aside while preparing the rest of the salad.
*Boyajian Orange Oil is available at specialty food stores.
Yield: 1 1/2 cups.
3. Brown Rice and Black Bean Burrito (above)
- 2 cups chicken stock or water
- 1 cup brown rice
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 1 jalapeo, chopped
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 can fire-roasted tomatoes (15 ounces), diced
- 2 cans black beans (14 ounces each), drained and rinsed
- 4 large whole wheat tortillas
- 1 cup smoked white cheddar cheese
- 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, chopped
- 4 small tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
- 1/2 bunch cilantro leaves (about a handful), removed from stems
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Juice of 1 lime
- A few dashes of hot sauce
- 1 jicama, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
Place a medium size pot over medium-high heat with the stock or water and brown rice. Season with salt and pepper and bring up to a bubble. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the rice has absorbed all the liquid, about 25 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork.
While the rice is cooking, place another pot over medium heat with one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, and add the onion, garlic, jalapeo, salt and ground black pepper. Cook until tender, about three to four minutes. Stir in the cumin and cook about one minute, then add the tomatoes and beans and heat through, about two minutes. Keep warm until the rice is ready.
Just before the rice and beans are ready, place a dry skillet over medium heat. Warm the tortillas in the pan until hot and lightly blistered. Transfer the finished tortillas to a plate and cover them in a clean kitchen towel to keep them warm.
When everything is ready, lay down the tortillas and divide the cheese evenly between them. Divide the rice and beans between the tortillas as well as the lettuce, tomatoes, scallions, and cilantro. Roll up each burrito.
For the salad, whisk together the honey, lime juice, hot sauce, salt, and ground black pepper and the remaining 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Toss with the jicama, red onion, and carrots. Serve on the side with a burrito.
4. Whole Grain Banana Muffins
- 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup oat bran
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt
- 1/4 cup low fat sour cream
- 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons egg whites
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 small ripe bananas, mashed
- 1/4 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease a 12 cup muffin tin.
In a large bowl, whisk together whole wheat flours, oat bran, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir in raisins. In another bowl, mix together yogurt, sour cream, applesauce, maple syrup, egg whites, vanilla, and bananas. Pour yogurt mixture into flour mixture, and mix just enough to combine. Spoon batter into muffin cups. Sprinkle one teaspoon pecans over batter in each cup.
Bake muffins in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven, and transfer muffins to a wire rack to cool.
5. Baby Spinach Omelette
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup torn baby spinach leaves
- 1 1/2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a bowl, beat the eggs, and stir in the baby spinach and Parmesan cheese. Season with onion powder, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
In a small skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat, cook the egg mixture about three minutes, until partially set. Flip with a spatula, and continue cooking two to three minutes. Reduce heat to low, and continue cooking two to three minutes, or to desired doneness.