The world has changed dramatically in the last year and many of us are trying our best to stay positive and hopeful during these unprecedented times. While we may be tempted to bury ourselves in our beds or in our work and just plug along, it may be possible to counter the negative feelings by eating a variety of mood-boosting foods.
While the effect food has on our physical health is undeniable, research is connecting food to our emotional health, as well.
The following 10 foods have mood-lifting properties that may help you shake off the winter blahs.
This heart-healthy fish is packed full of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, two nutrients that have been shown to increase levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.
One study found that individuals suffering from depression significantly reduced their feelings of sadness and hostility by eating a healthy diet that included fatty fish two to three times per week.
Salmon is also one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D. Studies have linked low levels of this sunshine vitamin to depression and seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
For women experiencing PMS, a cup of yogurt may help. One study found that women who ate a daily diet that contained 500mg of calcium experienced fewer PMS symptoms, including depression and irritability. Choose fermented calcium-rich foods like plain Greek style yogurt or kefir, for added mood-lifting benefits. Increasing the levels of gut microbes has been shown to increase neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which are linked to happiness.
This antioxidant-rich nut is an excellent source of serotonin-boosting omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium, a mineral that helps stabilize mood by regulating blood sugar levels. Studies have found that a dietary deficiency of magnesium combined with excess calcium and stress may cause symptoms associated with depression, including agitation, anxiety, irritability and insomnia.
Carbohydrates cause serotonin levels to increase, making us feel happy and relaxed. Unfortunately, not all carbohydrates are created equal. The best carbs are the ones that are both low-glycemic and high in fiber. This includes carbs from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains such as popcorn.
The brain runs on glucose, and slow-absorbing complex carbs provide a fuel source that is more sustainable and nutrient-rich than the fuel we get from simple sugars, such as cake and cookies.
Rich in energy-producing potassium, mood-elevating magnesium, and vitamin B6, a banana with breakfast is a great way to start your day. Vitamin B6 is essential for the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine in the brain and may reduce symptoms of depression.
6. Dark Chocolate
This is my favorite mood-lifting food. Dark chocolate contains high levels of the amino acid phenylalanine, which may be an effective treatment for depression, as it enhances production of the mood-elevating chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.
7. Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts are one of the most concentrated food sources of free radical-fighting selenium, a trace mineral that when deficient can lead to feelings of hostility, irritability, anxiety and depression. Brazil nuts also contain magnesium, which helps calm the nerves, as well as zinc, a mineral that may help with anxiety.
Spinach, chard and other dark leafy greens contain magnesium, which can positively impact serotonin levels and boost your mood. About half of all Americans are low in magnesium, and this deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety.
Spinach is also a source of folate and studies have linked depression to folate deficiency, as low levels of this essential B vitamin appear to reduce the amount of mood-regulating serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline produced in the brain.
More Mood-Boosting Tips
To stay healthy and happy, try these recommendations:
- Instead of focusing on just one mood-boosting nutrient, concentrate on eating a balanced diet to minimize nutritional deficiencies.
- Reduce your intake of bad fats (saturated and trans), and increase your intake of good fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids.
- Don’t skip meals. Three meals and two to three snacks each day will give your brain constant fuel.
- Skip the sugary and fatty snacks, as they cause blood sugar levels to spike.
- Avoid low-carb diets. Carbs are good for you when you eat the right ones.
- Take a vitamin D supplement daily.