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Often when we're tired, overworked, stressed or lacking sleep we naturally reach for food or drinks we feel will give us a lift or stimulate us. We tend to gravitate toward sugar and caffeine as they initially lift our spirits and increase our energy levels but, as most of us have learned over the years, they also leave us feeling down, cause spikes in our energy and mood which tend to come crashing down afterwards and, long term, can lead to weight gain, bad teeth and general moodiness and irritability.
So what can we eat to lift our mood and our energy that is wholesome, healthy and maybe lasts a bit longer than that candy bar or the third latte of the day? For one thing, slowing down or even eliminating processed foods, sugar, high fat foods, fried foods and caffeine will help. Eating these things feels good for the moment you are consuming them but the moment does not last and the end results can be lethargy and even depression, not to mention craving more and more of them and never quite feeling satisfied.
Creating balance in your diet will help. Making sure you get enough protein-- especially important if you are vegan or vegetarian--will assist your body in remaining balanced and your brain in feeling good. Eating a good healthy balance of whole grains and protein most meals will keep you fuller longer and will give you that slow burning energy that can last for hours.
Tryptophan is an amino acid which can increase serotonin levels in the brain, contributing to feelings of optimism and calm. Foods that contain this amino acid include bananas, avocados, dried apricots, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds. Polyunsaturated omega-3 fats help elevate mood and reduce anxiety and depression. Foods rich in omega-3 fats include fish like salmon and mackerel and some nuts and seeds such as walnuts and pumpkin seeds.
Remember, the whiter it is, the more processed your food is (think many bagels, white crackers, white bread, pancakes, pasta, etc.), and the more likely it is to fill you up and give you energy quickly, but it will also let you down, sometimes way down, after a short period of time.