When stressed out or feeling down, it’s usually not our first instinct to turn to food as a cure. Many of us have heard the famous quote by Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food," and this philosophy also holds true when it comes to boosting your mood. Food plays a huge role in our physical health, but it surprisingly affects our mental health as well.
Unhappiness and stress can often cause people to turn to comforting dishes such as sweet desserts or salty fast food, but these types of food can actually make your mood worse. In fact, studies show that in places where sugar consumption is high, depression rates are high as well.
Eating the right foods, however, can help increase overall mood through the nutrients they contain. Certain foods can even boost your levels of serotonin, the chemical in your body responsible for giving you a relaxing and positive feeling.
Next time you are feeling anxious or grumpy, try reaching for one of the following foods to help yourself feel a bit more calm and cheery.
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Animal protein such as beef, turkey, and chicken contain tryptophan, an amino acid that converts into serotonin. Keeping your serotonin levels steady will calm you down and stabilize your mood. You’ll get the most benefits from meat that is sustainably raised, so opt for grass-fed meat and free-range poultry.
Berries contain anthocyanins, an antioxidant that helps ward off depression. These fruits also contain chemicals similar to valproic acid, a prescription drug that is commonly used for mood-stabilization.
Almonds are high in selenium, a mineral that has been shown to boost mood. They also help to stabilize blood sugar, which keeps your moods from having extreme ups and downs. Like meat, almonds help elevate serotonin levels as well.
Lucky for you, dark chocolate not only tastes delicious (which might just boost your mood in itself!) but it contains antioxidants that help lower the stress hormone cortisol. Studies show that those who ate an average-sized dark chocolate bar daily had lower anxiety levels and changes in chemicals that relate to stress. To get these benefits, look for dark chocolate that is 70 percent or higher.
Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, starchy vegetables and beans, and enriched flours also contain serotonin, the mood-boosting neurotransmitter. Studies found that those who follow a very low-carbohydrate diet were more depressed and anxious than those who ate more carbohydrates. Eat a side of brown rice or a piece of whole-grain toast with your meal to add a little more serotonin into your daily diet.
Studies show that in places where fish consumption is high, depression rates are low. This is because fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which help regulate dopamine and serotonin receptors, both which play a role in feeling happy. Try to eat fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel, which are all high in omega-3s.
Greens such as spinach, kale, cabbage, and collard greens contain folic acid, a B vitamin that plays a role in mood regulation. Research has found that elevating folate levels in people who were depressed helped with their moods, as the B vitamin contributes to the synthesis of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine in the brain.