It’s no secret that there are intricate links between your physical health and the food you eat. Mounting research attempts to connect the dots between mental health and a variety of vitamins and nutrients.
Although food alone cannot cure a disorder such as depression, a diet rich in mood-boosting foods can provide a nice complement to traditional psychotherapy and/or medication.
High concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids—the heart-healthy fats that aid mood and memory—are present in the brain. Salmon is chock-full of omega-3s, and University of Maryland Medical Center researchers suggest that these nutrients can help lift mood, alleviate mild depression, and improve memory as well.
Oily fish like salmon is also rich in vitamin B12, which research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology shows can help in production of serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for good mood.
An egg contains countless nutrients to help support a healthy body and mind. For instance, the Harvard School of Public Health touts its high protein content for promoting normal growth and building muscle.
Although egg yolks are commonly shunned for their high cholesterol content, they’re also rich in good-for-you nutrients. According to North Carolina State University, eggs and egg yolks are rich in vitamins D, B12, and choline, nutrients that are all important for brain development and function.
Dark leafy greens—such as spinach, turnip greens and romaine lettuce—are high in folic acid, a nutrient that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) report as alleviating depression and reducing fatigue. In addition, dark leafy greens are packed with magnesium, a nutrient that contributes to normal nerve and muscle function. Low magnesium levels may lead to low levels of serotonin, a hormone that helps you sleep well and stabilizes your mood.
Turkey and chicken contain the chemical tryptophan, an amino acid that helps you make serotonin and is responsible for the sluggishness you feel after a Thanksgiving meal. To double the mood-boost, these two types of poultry are also rich in tyrosine, another amino acid that can help the body cope with stress. Tyrosine is a building block for dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that help control your mood.
Carbohydrates tend to top the list of comfort foods for a lot of people: think macaroni and cheese, creamy mashed potatoes, and homemade waffles or pancakes. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), one theory surrounding why you crave carbohydrates is low serotonin levels. Carbs are thought to boost the production of these mood-regulating chemicals.
There’s nothing wrong with indulging in carbohydrate-rich foods when you’re feeling blue, though you should do it the healthy way. Carbs rich in fiber—for example, oatmeal, legumes, and whole grains—are your best bets. They can help you maintain your weight, reducing your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Milk is an ideal source of an array of nutrients, including vitamins A and B, calcium, carbohydrates, magnesium, phosphate, protein, riboflavin, and zinc.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that consuming whey, a protein present in milk, may decrease anxiety and stress. Cow’s milk also contains iodine, a nutrient important for thyroid function. The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate almost all of your body’s functions, including metabolism and mood.
Chocolate lovers abound and for good reason. The boost in mood you get when you treat yourself is not a coincidence—it’s all in the composition of the candy. According to the University of Texas Health Science Center, chocolate makes you feel good because it’s full of a mix of mood-elevating chemicals, including caffeine, theobromine, tyrosine, and tryptophan.
Dark chocolate is an indulgence that offers more health benefits than milk chocolate. This treat usually has less fat than milk chocolate and contains antioxidants.
Rich in antioxidants, serotonin-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium, walnuts are beneficial to your physical and mental health. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that magnesium deficiency may cause depression, anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.
In addition, Harvard Medical School points to walnuts as a good source of heart-healthy vitamin E and a special type of omega-3 usually only found in plant-based foods. Snack on a handful of walnuts or toss them into a salad or your breakfast cereal to reap the benefits of this nutrient-rich tree nut at any time during the day.
Vitamin C deficiency is often associated with low energy, depressed mood, and irritability. Citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit, provide an instant burst of vitamin C.
Vitamin C also aids in your body’s absorption of iron, a mineral crucial for the production of healthy red blood cells. Beyond citrus, you can get a good boost from other foods, such as broccoli, red bell peppers, strawberries, cabbage, spinach, and baked potatoes.
More Food for Thought
Diet changes alone are not going to make all your fears, anxiety, and blue moods disappear. However, studies show that what you eat has a great impact on how you feel. Additional tricks that will help lift your body, mind, and spirit include: eating consistently throughout the day, limiting consumption of refined carbohydrates and processed food, incorporating soluble fiber and protein, and consuming the bounty of foods in this list.
If you are facing serious depression, it’s important to seek proper professional treatment.