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Foods That Boost Mood and Fight Holiday Weight Gain

Don’t let stress and bad moods bring you down this holiday season.
By Jenny Stamos Kovacs
WebMD Feature

Neither stress nor holiday weight gain need ruin your holidays this year. Here are tips about eating habits and foods that can boost your mood when a stressful situation strikes. You’ll feel calmer – and be trimmer -- throughout the holiday season. 

How Blood Sugar Alters Your Mood

The best way to cope with holiday stress and obligations is to keep your mood and energy stable. You'll not only feel better, but will be much less likely to overeat.

"Choosing foods that your body absorbs slowly keeps blood sugar steady, maintaining your feelings on an even keel," says Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Food & Mood. Slow-digesting foods include whole-grain cereal with milk, brown rice with salmon or chicken breast, a peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread, or a spinach salad and half a turkey sandwich with milk. You want to eat either quality carbohydrates or carbohydrates mixed with protein, she says.

Foods that absorb quickly, such as sugar, white bread, or anything refined, spike blood sugar high; then cause it to suddenly crash. After a crash, you'll feel crabby and hungry, and end up grabbing chocolate bars or candy -- setting yourself up for yet another blood sugar dive, Somer says.

Boost Your Mood With Feel-Good Serotonin

High-protein diets may help you drop pounds, but they won’t do much to raise your spirits. That's because your body craves serotonin, the feel-good chemical found in foods that boost your mood.

"Carbohydrates are essential for moving tryptophan (the amino acid that makes up serotonin) across the brain," says Susan M. Kleiner, PhD, RD, co-author of The Good Mood Diet. When your blood sugar drops, less carbohydrate is available in the bloodstream; less tryptophan moves across into the brain and your mood can plummet.  

In fact, researchers at Arizona State University found that after just two weeks, a very low-carb diet increased fatigue and reduced the desire of overweight adults to exercise.  

Serotonin fights holiday weight gain, too. "It tells you when you've had enough by causing satiety (a feeling of fullness) and reducing your appetite," says Judith J. Wurtman, PhD, co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet.

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