When we’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, we often reach for comfort food to lift our spirits. Treats and snacks that are high in sugar and saturated fat may provide a temporary mood boost, but can cause crashes and lethargy later. Chronic consumption of junk food can lead to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
2020 Public Health Research reports that the prevalence of depression symptoms in the US was more than 3-times higher in 2020 than it was in 2019. With depression and anxiety on the rise, the risk for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease is on the rise as well.
Choosing healthier coping mechanisms and more nutritious foods may provide more effective relief from stress and anxiety.
How Foods Can Boost Your Mood
While mood can be influenced by many factors such as stress, genetics, and poor sleep, food and nutrition plays a significant role in how joyful or sad we feel.
A 2014 Frontiers in Psychology study explained, “Reward and gratification associated with food consumption leads to dopamine (DA) production, which in turn activates reward and pleasure centers in the brain. An individual will repeatedly eat a particular food to experience this positive feeling of gratification. This type of repetitive behavior of food intake leads to the activation of brain reward pathways that eventually overrides other signals of satiety and hunger. Thus, a gratification habit through favorable food leads to overeating and morbid obesity… Research findings from human and animal studies support a two-way link between three concepts, mood, food, and obesity.
Individuals experiencing depressed moods show preference for and consume palatable ‘comfort foods’ as a means to alleviate their negative feelings. Although on a short-term basis, palatable foods can provide some relief from negative emotions and mood states, chronic consumption of calorically-rich foods ultimately leads to obesity which in turn promotes vulnerability to depression and anxiety.”
Next time you find yourself reaching for comfort food, try to create healthier eating habits by having more nutritious foods on hand. Stocking up on the following foods can help train your brain to associate the same reward feeling, without increasing your risk for disease. These 5 nutritious foods can boost your mood and improve your overall health in a variety of ways.
1. Dark Chocolate
While you may be tempted to reach for a typical Hershey’s bar or bag of M&Ms, make sure to check the cocoa percentage first! Since regular milk chocolate contains added ingredients like sugar and fat, choose dark chocolate in its raw form for maximum results.
A 100-gram bar of dark chocolate with 70–85% cocoa contains:
- 11 grams of fiber
- 67% of the RDI for iron
- 58% of the RDI for magnesium
- 89% of the RDI for copper
- 98% of the RDI for manganese
- Potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium
Dark chocolate includes a variety of feel-good compounds, such as caffeine, theobromine, and N-acylethanolamine — a substance chemically similar to cannabinoids. Dark chocolate also includes flavonoids, which boost mood by increasing blood flow to your brain and reducing inflammation. Finally, dark chocolate has a high hedonic rating which means it stimulates multiple senses. The pleasurable taste, texture, and smell increase dopamine and serotonin, the joy hormones.
If you’d like an extra excuse to eat sushi, fatty fish like salmon and albacore tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3’s are a group of good, essential fats that you can only absorb through diet. Omega-3s influence neurotransmitter levels and play a key role in brain development. Salmon and tuna contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
A 2003 European Neuropsychopharmacology study found that “Patients with depression have been extensively reported to be associated with the abnormality of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), including significantly low eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid in cell tissue contents”
Most experts recommend absorbing at least 250–500 mg of combined EPA and DHA per day. A 100-gram serving of salmon provides 2,260 mg of EPA and DHA so it’s an ideal source of both nutrients and stress-relief.
Fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut improve gut health and therefore mood. The fermentation process allows live bacteria to convert sugars into alcohol and acids. During this process, probiotics are created. These live microorganisms support the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut. 90% of serotonin, the joy hormone, is produced in the microbiome. In short, gut health = mental health.
Probiotics such as yogurt also increase brain health. Research shows a connection between healthy gut bacteria and lower rates of depression. A 2014 Study reported, “The brain-gut axis is a bidirectional communication system between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract… Therapeutic targeting of the gut microbiota might be a viable treatment strategy for serotonin-related brain-gut axis disorders.
Bananas are an easy snack to take on-the-go to boost your mood. Bananas are high in vitamin B6, which helps synthesize feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
One large banana (136 grams) provides 16 grams of natural sugar and 3.5 grams of fiber. When you absorb natural sugars with fiber, the sugar is released slowly into your bloodstream, allowing for stable blood sugar levels and better mood control. Stable blood sugar levels prevent mood swings and irritability.
Make sure to choose ripe bananas with some green on the peel. Ripe bananas are an excellent source of probiotics, a type of fiber that helps feed healthy bacteria in the gut. Again a healthy gut is a happy gut!
Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, are tasty snacks that curb salt cravings with a satisfying crunch. Almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds, are excellent sources of plant-based proteins, healthy fats, and fiber. Nuts and seeds lower the risk of depression by increasing brain health. They also include tryptophan, an amino acid responsible for producing mood-boosting serotonin.
Certain nuts and seeds, such as Brazil nuts, almonds, and pine nuts, are good sources of zinc and selenium. Deficiency in these minerals has been associated with higher rates of depression.
Boost Your Mood with Supplements
Support your mental health and diet habits with natural supplements. Supplements offer a quick, easy way to absorb essential nutrients daily. Boost your immune system and balance joy hormones with the following options:
If you’re not getting enough sleep, your body doesn’t have time to detox both physically and mentally. Boost your moods with natural melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin helps regulate circadian rhythms and your body’s natural sleep cycle. Quality sleep can help you wake up feeling more joyful and energized.
5-HTP can support relaxation and help you feel more rested. The brain uses 5-HTP to produce serotonin, a calming hormone. Serotonin regulates sleep, appetite and temperature, sexual behavior, and pain sensation. 5-HTP can balance serotonin levels by helping us feel more calm, focused and grounded.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is an active ingredient in cannabis derived from the hemp plant. It can help treat conditions like pain, insomnia, and anxiety by increasing serotonin levels.
If you’d like to declutter your mood and mind, find more clarity with Tyrosine. Tyrosine is an amino acid that plays a critical role in dopamine production. Dopamine is also closely linked to memory. Tyrosine can improve mental alertness, attention and focus.
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