Eating healthy and nutritious food is good not only for your physical health but also for your mood, pulling you out of the vicious cycle of stress and unhealthy food in the process, experts say.
If a bad day at the office or home pushes you to reach out for potato chips or open the refrigerator for beer - food that can make you fat and eventually add to your stress levels - here is some good news.
"It has been proven through research that prebiotic and probiotic foods reduce stress and depression. Red wine and dark chocolates, kimchi salad and sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) are all healthy alternatives to potato chips and alcohol," said Sunita Roy Chowdhary, chief dietician at the BLK Super Specialty Hospital.
Probiotics are good bacteria that are found in the gut and in certain foods.
"Also, curd and Indian lassi are loaded with stress busting bacteria," Roy Chowdhary added.
One way food can help improve our mood is by changing the composition of bacteria residing inside our gut.
"Our body is a dwelling place for about trillions of bacteria and other microbes, collectively known as microbiome. They do many important things: break down food, fight off infection, and boost the immune system. However, scientists are finding that they may do even more than that, and have an important role in our mental health," Roy Chowdhary explained.
"Studies in both humans and animals indicate that the number and type of bacteria in the gut influence anxiety levels," she pointed out.
She added that probiotics have been shown to lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which is linked with anxiety and depression.
"In other words, it can be said that eating can alter behavior," Roy Chowdhary noted.
Besides curd, most fermented foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, pickles and even red carrot "kanji", a fermented drink, can be a healthier way to deal with your drab days than gorging on fatty foods, according to the dietician.
She said that oats, banana, wheat bran, cabbage and most fruits, especially those which can be eaten with the peel, are all examples of prebiotic foods long-term consumption of which may reduce the risk of depression.
Renowned dietician Ishi Khosla, clinical nutritionist and founder of Whole Foods India, a chain of cafe cum retail outlets, said food can affect our mood because certain of its constituents alter the neuro-chemical messengers, called the neurotransmitters, which help in brain functioning and carrying signals between nerve cells.
For those looking for a calming recipe, "a cup of milk sweetened with honey at bedtime is helpful as milk is a good source of tryptophan (an amino acid) which induces sleep by triggering serotonin, a neurotransmitter," said Khosla, who is also the founder of theweightmonitor.com, a weight loss solution provider.
On the other hand "processed and high fat foods can cause bad mood", Roy Chowdhary stressed.
"Also, carbonated beverages and sodas, too much of caffeine, foods with too much sweet and fat but no fiber, heavy greasy meals with less or no fiber and high red meat content can also increase the risk of (a) bad mood (setting in)," she added.
According to Khosla, food rich in omega-3 fatty acids - found in fish, nuts and certain seeds - can help fight mental stress.
Plant-based foods that are rich in omega-3 fats include flaxseed, mustard oil, mustard seeds, methi, urad dal, rajma (kidney beans), soybean, lobia, walnuts and bajra (pearl millet), she highlighted.
So, the next time you open that refrigerator, pause. Give some thought to what you should eat - for food satiates not just your appetite, it can also pep up your mood.