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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.

Nix Stress-Induced Mood Swings

Although experts generally advise avoiding simple carbs, afternoon mood swings beg for fast fixes.

"If you feel grumpy in the afternoon, eat only carbohydrates," Somer says. Eating protein with carbs blocks serotonin production, while high-fat foods keep digestion slow. Wurtman agrees. "When you're stressed, reach for carbs -- simple sugars that digest quickly," she says. "Bingeing on simple carbohydrates is your body's natural way of dealing with stress -- but you can’t include protein or fat.”

"Abort an afternoon stress binge with a power gel called Gu," Wurtman says. "It's made of pure sugar (glucose), contains 100 calories and zero fat, and is digested quickly; allowing serotonin to make you feel better fast." Research conducted in Wurtman's weight loss center showed that women who consumed a pack of Gu found it so sweet and filling that they had no desire for more.

Keep in mind that Gu takes time to work, she tells WebMD. Glucose may be a quick fix, but it isn't instant. Tell yourself, "I know this is going to work," Just eat your snack; then distract yourself with something you enjoy. In 20 minutes, the food you've consumed will abort bingeing on high-sugar, high-fat foods like weight loss sabotaging holiday treats.

If Gu is not for you, Wurtman recommends trying low-fat foods with carbs such as a baked potato, graham crackers, popcorn, pretzels, or low-fat cereal, which is also loaded with healthy fiber.

Food and Diet Tips to Keep Your Mood Stable

Besides carbohydrates, studies indicate that many other foods -- along with healthful eating habits -- may help our moods and somewhat ease depression.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Population studies show that people who infrequently eat fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, are more likely to suffer depression. So add foods rich in omega-3s to your diet. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. Other good food sources include flaxseed, nuts, and dark, green leafy vegetables. 
  • Vitamin B-12: Studies also indicate that people who eat diets low in vitamin B-12 may be at higher risk of depression. Good food sources of vitamin B-12 include lean and low-fat animal products, such as fish and low-fat dairy foods. 
  • Selenium: Preliminary small studies indicate that selenium may help improve mild depression. Although more research is needed, many foods rich in selenium are healthy regardless of your mood. It can’t hurt to add these to your diet: seafood, nuts, lean meat, whole grains, beans, and low-fat dairy.

Frequent small meals: Eating frequent, small meals of healthy foods helps keep your blood sugar levels even, avoiding diet-related mood swings. Eat a small meal or snack every three to four hours to give you sustained energy and keep your blood sugar stable.

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