By Debra Soufleris, B.S., DTR
Are you the type of person that reaches for something sweet and sugary if you’re feeling down or having a bad day? Or are you more of a salty French fries or pretzel person? Either way, these types of snacks may temporarily lift your spirits, but in the long run, they’ll end up making you feel even worse.
As explained by Perri Halperin, MS, RD at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York: “Just as your mood can affect your food choices, certain foods can help boost your mood.” She goes on to say, “Some foods can influence neurotransmitters in the brain that make us feel good, so choosing these foods can help enhance your mental state.” The best way to achieve this is to eat a variety of foods that are proven to lift your mood.
Eggs are high in tryptophan, which is an essential amino acid that helps produce the feel-good hormone serotonin. Without tryptophan, your body cannot make serotonin. Serotonin also plays a key role in cognition and memory. If eggs are just not your thing, other sources of tryptophan include fish, shellfish, spinach, dates, and bananas.
Salmon is a great source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which help combat depression and boost mood. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish are absorbed more efficiently than the type found in plant sources like nuts and seeds, explains Kim Larson, Health & Wellness Coach at Total Health in Seattle, WA. In addition to salmon, other fish like trout, mackerel, and tuna are also rich in omega-3’s.
Additionally, these types of fish help reduce inflammation which is at the core of most chronic conditions. If you are a vegetarian, vegan, or just do not like fish, plant sources such as walnuts, flaxseeds (be sure they are ground so they can be absorbed), chia seeds, and soybeans all contain omega-3 fatty acids. Note that these sources, however, are not as well absorbed.
YUM! Count me in. Finally, the news you’ve been waiting for: dark chocolate contains high levels of antioxidants. Exercise is great for reducing cortisol levels, but sometimes that’s not enough. Antioxidants are known to reduce stress-promoting hormones like cortisol, while also reducing inflammation. So, go ahead and indulge a bit. Choose wisely; the higher the cacao levels, the better it is for you and the less sugar it contains. The most benefits are known with levels of 70% cacao or higher. Dark chocolate also stimulates the production of endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that create feelings of pleasure. It still is calorie-dense, so be mindful of portions and stick to about a 1-ounce serving, which equates to roughly 150-200 kcals.
Matcha green tea latte anyone? Sipping on green tea can help soothe your senses and calm your nerves. Regular green tea intake was linked to less depression and anxiety, according to a Japanese study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This may be due to the mood-boosting nutrients L-theanine, an amino acid that helps fight anxiety. Green tea can be a great pick-me-up without making you feel jittery for anyone avoiding coffee.
One of the most abundant sources of antioxidants, including flavonoids and polyphenols—substances that are known to boost mood and brainpower. Blueberries help regulate mood, improve memory, and protect the brain from aging. They are also a good source of folate, a B vitamin, which helps your body produce serotonin. If you’re feeling a little down, grab a handful of these gems, toss them in a smoothie, or add them as a sweet topper for your salad to enjoy all the benefits.
Chock-full of healthy fats and B-vitamins, and important minerals like selenium (a form of antioxidants) and copper—all know to promote positive mental health. Nuts make a perfect snack, especially on the go. They are great for traveling or as a crunchy salad topper. I like to add them to my yogurt or oatmeal for an additional nutritional boost.
We are learning more and more about the brain-gut connection. Thanks to yogurts probiotics, keeping your gut microbiome in balance has been linked to better mood, less stress and anxiety, and a lower chance of depression. Be sure to avoid flavored yogurts as they are loaded with added sugars. It is best to stick with the plain variety and to add some healthy fruits and nuts for flavor. One of my favorite things to eat is plain Greek yogurt topped with blueberries, nuts, cocoa nibs, and unsweetened shredded coconut.
You didn’t think I would forget to add these nutrient-dense foods–did ya? There’s a good reason they’re on every list of healthy foods to add to your diet. Dark leafy greens like, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens are all full of magnesium, a mineral that too many Americans fall short on, and is known to help reduce anxiety and help create a feeling of calmness. Other good sources include beans, lentils, and avocados. Perfect ingredients for a delicious lunch or side salad.
Take note of how your mind and body reacts to these types of foods and see which ones affect you in a positive way. Knowing this information can help you make the right changes in your diet that will have a positive impact on your mood. Your friends and family will thank you for it.