It’s a movie cliche: The protagonist, depressed after being dumped by the boy she digs, berated by her boss and blown off by her best friend, sits in the gloomy kitchen half-light, taking a spoon directly to a pint of ice cream or scarfing down a sad-looking cupcake. She’s using sweet treats and highly refined carbs to scuttle the blues and boost her mood — possibly while wearing unflattering pajamas, watching bad TV, and trying to ignore concerned and/or skeptical looks from her cat.
The scene has become a Hollywood trope, in part, because we recognize in it our own impulse to turn to comfort foods to boost our spirits — along with our blood sugar — when life gets us down or stresses us out. But, NPR reports, the relationship between food and mood is likely more complex than that.
The relief these high-sugar, high-carb foods bring may be fleeting, creating a “vicious cycle,” Harvard University pediatrics and nutrition professor David Ludwig told NPR. “When we feel stressed we seek foods that are going to comfort us immediately, but often times those foods lead to surges and crashes in hormones and blood sugar that increase our susceptibility to new stresses,” he explained.
That’s not to say there aren’t foods that can boost our moods and help us weather bad times. The Omega-3s found in fish, flax seed and chia seeds can make us more emotionally and socially flexible and resilient, studies indicate. A nutrition-rich diet — high in beneficial proteins, vitamins and minerals — can help beat stress, battle anxiety and boost our immune system.
Perhaps best of all, dark chocolate, with its cocoa flavonols, can promote an upbeat outlook and clear thinking, as well as reduce inflammation and improve vascular health. It can have, The Happiness Diet author Drew Ramsey told NPR, “an acute effect on mood.”
So next time you’re down, maybe skip the ice cream and dig into some Omega-3-rich salmon (pictured above) with a side of vitamin-rich kale, then indulge your sweet tooth with some dark chocolate bark. The recommended daily dose of dark chocolate is about 1 ounce per day. But don’t tell that to the cat!