There are few things in life as pleasurable as eating, and it makes sense that we would be driven to do something that literally sustains life. We must eat every day in order to remain healthy, but we also use eating as a coping mechanism for stress.
Unfortunately, the types of foods we crave when we are in a low mood can actually make the problem worse overall. Though sweet and calorie-dense foods give us an immediate boost of dopamine, after the rush passes our brains may revert to a place of deeper depression.
There are healthy foods that can provide a sustainable mood-lift, but if we don’t enjoy what we’re eating, chances are that we’ll just skip it. To help you make the right choices and have fun doing it, we have assembled a list of the best mood-boosting foods and some fun ways to enjoy them.
Fatty fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acid, which supports brain health by keeping your brain’s cell membrane structure fluid and assisting in cell signaling. We need to get omega-3s through diet because our bodies can’t produce them on their own.
Albacore tuna and salmon are two great choices, but kind of boring by themselves. The good news is that you can spice up your plate by including a variety of seasonings and side dishes.
Try eating your fish cooked in your favorite spices and finish with a drizzle of lemon juice. On the side, prepare a vibrant salad of tomato, avocado, quinoa, and garlic – or any colorful veggie mix of your choice.
No arm twisting is needed to folks to eat chocolate, but to really improve mood without causing a mental crash later, switch to the dark variety. It has less sugar and more healthy flavonoids, which reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to the brain.
There is some sugar in dark chocolate, but it also has other mood-lifting chemicals including caffeine, theobromine, and N-acylethanolamine (which is chemically similar to cannabinoids).
Dark chocolate is still a high-calorie food, so you can’t eat a ton of it at a time. Try enjoying some as part of a healthy trail mix including nuts and dried fruit.
Interestingly, certain elements of brain health actually start in the gut. For example, 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced there. Fermented foods are a great way to improve gut health via probiotics, which in turn may improve your mood.
Good fermented foods to eat for their probiotics include yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir. Unfortunately, beer, wine, and some “sour” breads are not good sources because the filtering and cooking process removes much of the probiotic content.
Kombucha is a fermented drink that’s really trendy right now, and can be fun for that reason alone. Kimchi and sauerkraut add a nice zing to proteins like fish and pork. Including yogurt in a healthy fruit smoothie is another great strategy – read on for the best mood-lifting fruits to include.
Bananas & Berries
Eating more fruits and vegetables in general is linked with a lower incidence of depression, but bananas and berries offer special mood-boosting benefits.
Bananas are high in vitamin B6, critical in the synthesis of dopamine and serotonin. They also contain enough fiber to regulate the release of sugar into your bloodstream so you avoid a crash.
Berries are particularly high in a range of antioxidants, especially anthocyanins, which are thought to decrease the risk of depression. Antioxidants are natural disease-fighters and improve the health of your brain along with every other part of your body.
Fruit is an excellent snack because it is sweet and needs very little prep beyond a quick wash. Bananas don’t even need the wash. But fruit is also super versatile and beyond smoothies, can be baked into bran or oat muffins, top salads, and mix into oatmeal.
We have included the world’s most popular drink on the list to relieve you of any guilt you may feel over the habit. Turns out, the mood-boosting benefits of coffee extend past the caffeine.
One notable study found that consuming coffee, whether caffeinated or decaffeinated, lifts mood more reliably than consumption of a placebo drink. Researchers speculate that this relates to the presence of various phenolic compounds.
But, when it comes to caffeine, this popular stimulant is known to prevent adenosine (a chemical that promotes tiredness) from attaching to receptors in the brain. And, it increases production of dopamine and norepinephrine.
There are probably hundreds of different ways to consume coffee, but if you don’t like the taste, you can still get that caffeine and a selection of antioxidants in green or black tea.
Once you have experimented with eating more of the foods we’ve described here, you can go further and include more oats, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils in your daily diet. The trick is to ease into eating mood-boosting foods you already enjoy. When you start to feel better, you’ll be inspired to experiment with new ingredients that, together, make the happiest meal possible.