We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat,” but what does it really mean? The proverbial expression suggests that in order to be healthy, you need to eat healthy foods. This is a widely accepted fact, and we know that to have more energy, reduce our risk of disease and prevent illness, we need to have a balanced diet.
To maintain our physical health, we need to take healthy actions. Getting 8 hours of sleep on our buckwheat pillow, taking a multivitamin, and engaging in regular exercise will keep up in shape and feeling good.
What is lesser known is that food affects our mental health. The foods you eat can impact your mood, and by eating the right foods, you can feel happier. Experts believe that smarter food choices can ward off depression and other mood disorders. A varied diet with lots of whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, beans, and fresh foods rich in omega-3s can help you feel better.
Felice Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISPR), says, “Eating several servings of fruits and veggies daily, along with whole grains, lean meats, and occasional treats, is the best way to support good mental and physical health throughout life.”
Having a selection of certain foods can help manage depression and improve mood by providing you with a variety of essential nutrients. If you are looking to boost your mood, try eating more of the following 14 foods.
1. Red Bell Pepper
According to Jaclyn London, the Nutrition Director at Good Housekeeping Institute (GHI), red bell peppers are the ultimate happy food. They are packed with vitamin C and are the most nutritious of all the bell peppers. These nutrient-dense and tasty peppers contain a high amount of nutrients and vitamins to improve your mood. Vitamin C therapy has been successful at reducing stress and improving mood.
Salmon is full of benefits and nutrients! It contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are highly anti-inflammatory and vital for brain and nervous system development. Omega-3s EPA and DHA have been found to ward off depression. One study found that communities that consumed more fatty fish like salmon were less likely to experience depression and anxiety. These omega-3s are also found to impact personality and impulse control.
In addition to omega-3s, salmon contains a significant amount of vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Vitamin B12 works with folate to convert amino acids into neurotransmitters. An increase in neurotransmitters can help prevent depression, as research has found that those with depression have lower levels. Additionally, a vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression.
Chia is a superfood rich in nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. Like salmon, they are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The plant-based source of nutrients is also an excellent source of magnesium. Like magnesium glycinate supplements, magnesium is known to have a relaxing effect, reducing stress and anxiety. You can easily add chia seeds to your diet as they are incredibly versatile. They can be added to smoothies, yogurt, pudding, or baked goods.
Eggs are an eggcellent mood-boosting food! They contain vitamin B12, D, and a high level of protein. Eggs also have a high amount of a nutrient called choline. Choline improves your mood, supports your nervous system, and produces neurotransmitters. Not only will they help improve your mood, but they protect your brain from oxidative damage.
5. Fermented Foods
There are plenty of fermented foods you can incorporate into your diet that will boost your mood and health. Kombucha, yogurt, and sauerkraut are great fermented foods that contain a substantial amount of probiotics. In addition, research has found that 95% of serotonin is produced in your digestive tract. By keeping your gut healthy, you can increase serotonin production, which will improve your mood. In addition, some studies have found that probiotics can reduce depression.
Tukey is a phenomenal source of tryptophan which is an amino acid that helps produce serotonin. Serotonin is a mood-boosting neurotransmitter. When levels of serotonin are low, you are more likely to experience feelings of anxiety and depression. Research has found that diets rich in tryptophan can reduce irritability and depression.
Turkey also contains tyrosine and B vitamins. Tyrosine is a precursor to brain neurotransmitters. Vitamin B6, B12, and the mineral zinc deficiencies are associated with mood disorders like depression which you can prevent by getting more in your diet.
Though smaller in size, sardines have similar mood-boosting nutrients as salmon. These fatty fish contain mood boosters like choline, vitamin D, omega-3s, vitamin B12, selenium, and protein.
Chocolate is a significant mood-boosting food, and it’s not just because of its delicious taste and creamy texture! Chocolate is full of healthy nutrients and compounds that can make you feel happier. For example, phenylethylamine increases endorphins and “the bliss chemical” anandamide. In addition, research has found that chocolate improves mood and cognition.
It is also rich in iron and magnesium, which help you relax. Just like everything else, balance is key. Just a couple of pieces of dark chocolate a day can have a positive effect.
Are you looking for a mood-boosting food on the go? Try almonds! These nuts contain vitamin E, fiber, and magnesium, as well as tyrosine. Vitamin E will improve cognition and memory by combating free radical damage in the brain. If you aren’t a fan of almonds, try walnuts. They also obtain omega-3s and healthy fats to boost mood.
10. Sweet Potatoes
If you want to be healthier physically and emotionally, try swapping out your French fries with sweet potato fries. Sweet potatoes contain an abundance of mood-boosting nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, and B. Add them to any meal like stews, salads, or casseroles to feel better.
11. Grass-Fed Beef
Quality proteins are an essential piece of a mood-boosting diet. Grass-fed beef is an excellent addition, providing you with plenty of healthy protein and omega-3 acids. These can both play a role in warding off depression and improving your mood. Grass-fed beef is better for your physical health as well.
12. Whole Grains
As previously mentioned, whole grains are essential for improving your mood and maintaining physical health. High-fiber foods are critical for brain health by stabilizing blood sugar. Foods that stabilize your blood sugar impact your mood by regulating brain neurotransmitter secretions. Look for whole-grain foods instead of sugary carbs that can cause energy levels to spike and then drop.
13. Fruit (and Vegetables)
Fruit is a great choice no matter the time of day. Add it to oatmeal or eat it on its own in the morning, enjoy it as a snack or have it for dessert. Research has discovered a correlation between fruit consumption and depression. In 2015, the journal Nutrition published an analysis that found that increased fruit and veggie intake decreased symptoms of depression.
Fruit contains an abundance of micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Experts recommend eating 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit every day to feel the mood-boosting effects. Although all fruit is great, bananas have been linked to improving mood.
Though red bell peppers and sweet potatoes are great mood-boosting veggies, they aren’t the only ones. A wide array of vegetables, including dark leafy greens and root vegetables, can reduce depression risk. They contain various minerals and vitamins that can improve a low mood and prevent depression. The USDA recommends 2 to 3 cups of vegetables a day. Though it depends on your age and gender, the USDA recommends between 1 to 2 cups of legumes a week.
Legumes are an essential piece of a Mediterranean-style diet that is known to prolong life and health. According to one study, it can also reduce your risk of depression. Add a variety of legumes like beans, peas, and chickpeas to your diet. These foods contain a great deal of fiber and probiotics, supporting healthy bacteria in your gut.
Nutritional psychology is a field of study dedicated to looking at food's effect on our brain.
Your diet can help or harm your mental health. Harvard Heath described the brain as an expensive car. For your vehicle to run as designed, you need to provide it with premium fuel. When you give it low-quality fuel, it won’t run as it should and you could experience mechanical issues. The food you eat is your fuel. High-quality foods will help your body function better and improve your mood, whereas low guilty foods can cause health issues and even trigger feelings of anxiety and depression.
Using the same car analogy, you also need to ensure your car runs often enough while simultaneously not driving it too hard. For your body, you need to get daily exercise while also ensuring you are spending enough time on your buckwheat pillow each night.
To feel and function better, try incorporating a few of these foods into your daily diet.
Over time you will see you have more energy and feel happier.