Bummed out? Stressed out? Tuckered out? You know that reaching for junk food isn’t going to help. But, you may be able to actually elevate your mood by eating certain foods.
“Studies show that there may be a link between nourishing your body and mental wellness,” says Megan Wroe, RD, wellness coach and registered dietitian at Synergy Wellness, located at the St. Jude Centers for Rehabilitation & Wellness in Brea. “You may not see dramatic differences, but it’s entirely possible that you could get a boost to make you feel better.”
Here are some foods believed to help you kick it into a happier gear:
Chocolate. We’re not talking about candy bars, but eating one-ounce portions of dark chocolate on a regular basis is believed to reduce stress hormones. Experts believe it’s the antioxidants in chocolate which boost brain levels of endorphins (natural opiates) as well as serotonin, which is a mood-altering chemical found in many antidepressants. These antioxidants are present in natural cacao so you can get that same boost by adding cocoa powder to your smoothies and oatmeal or topping yogurt with cacao nibs!
Fiber-rich carbohydrates. Researchers suspect that carbohydrates also promote serotonin. In a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, people who followed a very-low-carbohydrate diet for a year experienced more depression, anxiety and anger than those who ate low-fat but high-carbohydrate foods. Be careful when choosing your carbohydrates, however, as low fiber and low glycemic choices can lead to blood sugar fluctuations, which cause symptoms of anxiety and depression. Choose whole grains, like wild rice and quinoa, or starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes and squash!
Dark-green leafy vegetables. Here’s one more reason to eat your spinach, as well as your asparagus and Brussels sprouts. They’re high in folate, a B-vitamin that may help reduce symptoms of depression. The brain needs folate to synthesize norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. Boosting the folate levels of depressed patients has actually helped them improve their mood. Aim to eat at least one full cup of green veggies every day as part of the recommended three to five daily vegetable servings. Spinach, chard and other dark leafy greens also contain magnesium, which can positively impact serotonin levels and boost your mood. About half of all Americans are low in magnesium, which may impact our high levels of depression and anxiety. In addition to your greens, add magnesium-rich pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, chickpeas and beans to your meals.
Oily, fatty fish. By fatty fish, we’re talking about those with good oils like salmon, tuna, sardines and rainbow trout. These are rich in omega-3s—a key mood-boosting nutrient our bodies don’t produce. But there’s a catch: Omega-3s actually come from the seaweed and algae that fish eat in the wild, so farmed fish, while still high in protein, does not actually offer this brain-boosting nutrient! And here’s a bonus for salmon lovers: Your favorite fish also contains vitamin B-12, which produces brain chemicals that help keep depression at bay.
Saffron. A study from Iran shows that women with PMS noticed a definite improvement in their symptoms when taking saffron capsules. Researchers believe that the spice is a kind of natural Prozac, helping make serotonin more available to the brain.
Coconut. This island delight actually stops your “fight or flight” response when you’re stressed, thereby lowering your heart rate. In a Columbia University study, people who inhaled coconut fragrance recovered more quickly from being stressed out over a challenging task. Look for unsweetened coconut flakes, since those with added sugar can create that blood sugar crash. Add unsweetened flakes to nuts, seeds and dried fruit for a super tasty and energizing morning muesli!
Tea. It’s not coffee, but good old caffeinated black, green or oolong tea can make you more alert. Experts believe theanine—an amino acid in these tea varieties—may work alongside the caffeine to help your attention and focus. But you can’t be timid about the tea. To enjoy the benefits, the study suggests drinking five to six (eight-ounce) cups of tea daily.
Blueberries - It’s the high content of antioxidants known as flavonoids that make these little blue wonders so terrific. Blueberries help activate brain pathways associated with better cognition and they’re associated with creating a more positive mood. Defrosted blueberries make a deliciously syrupy addition to yogurt and pancakes, so keep a batch in your freezer to enjoy them all year long!
Turkey – We all know how turkey is supposed to make you sleepy, but recent studies show that tryptophan – an amino acid in turkey –acts as a precursor to serotonin and could reduce the impact of social anxiety disorders. To achieve a mood boost instead of a post-poultry crash, keep portions to the size of your palm, and pair them with lots of colorful veggies!
Chewing gum - The repetitive action of chewing on gum can promote relaxation and reduce anxiety and stress. It can also increase alertness and blood flow in the brain. That is, unless you’re in company that finds a mouth full of chewing gum distasteful.
Want to adopt one particular type of food? Experts say, "Go Mediterranean.” A diet rich in veggies, whole grains, olive oil, wild fish and nuts can help reduce depression symptoms. And besides, a Mediterranean diet is also good for heart health, which should really make you happy about your food choices.
And remember, simply changing your diet can’t solve all concerns with mental health. If you feel the signs of anxiety or depression aren’t going away, seek professional help. Working with an expert is a lot more effective than simply raiding the refrigerator.
St. Joseph Health's primary care physicians and specialists can improve your mood by helping you be your healthiest, from diet and nutrition, to mental health and wellness. Click here to find a doctor near you. To learn more about the wide variety of health promotion and wellness services offered at Synergy, click here or call us at (714) 578-8770.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.