mood boosting foods

For many, the long winter may have you feeling a little blue.  The good news is a sunnier disposition could be as close as your refrigerator.

While the effect food has on our physical health is undeniable, research is connecting food to our emotional health as well.

I’m here today to share with you a few foods you may want to add to your day to ignite your energy, pump up your mood and shake off the winter “blahs.”

1: salmon

This heart-healthy fish is packed full of omega-3 fatty acid and vitamin D, two nutrients that have been shown to increase levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.

A clinical study found that over the course of five years, individuals suffering from depression significantly reduced their feelings of sadness and hostility by eating a healthy diet that included fatty fish two to three times per week.

Salmon is also one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D. Studies have linked low levels of this sunshine vitamin to depression and seasonal affective disorder.

Choose wild over farm-raised.  Serve it baked, broiled or grilled with an array of colorful vegetables for an added nutrition boost.

2: walnuts

This antioxidant-rich nut is an excellent source of serotonin-boosting omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium, a mineral that helps stabilize mood by regulating blood sugar levels.

Clinical studies have found that a dietary deficiency of magnesium combined with excess calcium and stress may cause symptoms associated with depression including agitation, anxiety, irritability, and insomnia. Although more research is needed, magnesium may also alleviate mood swings associated with PMS.

You can eat walnuts alone or add them to your favorite oatmeal, yogurt or salads.  Research also suggests that having a small handful of walnuts before a meal can curb appetite.

3: bananas

Rich in energy-producing potassium, mood-elevating magnesium, and vitamin B6, a banana with breakfast will get your day off to a good start.

Vitamin B6 is essential for the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine in the brain and may reduce symptoms of depression. Vitamin B6 is also a popular remedy for treating the symptoms of PMS. Unfortunately, current research hasn’t been able to support this claim.

For a nutritious snack, spread some almond butter on half a banana and enjoy.  Bananas are also great added to smoothies and yogurt. (note: although bananas have many great qualities they are also a high glycemic, high sugar food.  Pairing it with a protein will help slow down the digestion of the sugar.)

4: dark chocolate

The ultimate comfort food, dark chocolate contains high levels of the amino acid phenylalanine.

Although more research is needed, some clinical evidence has suggested that phenylalanine may be an effective treatment for depression, as it enhances production of the mood-elevating chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.

Savor a square or two of dark chocolate by itself.  Or for a fun treat, melt a bit of dark chocolate and dip some strawberries into it. YUM!  You can also add some raw cacao to your morning smoothies for a delicious mood-boosting breakfast shake.  (Great for women during that time of the month.)

5: oysters

Considered by many to be an aphrodisiac, oysters not only create feelings of love in some, but also are exceptionally high in zinc, a trace mineral that calms the body and stabilizes mood.

When under stress, zinc reserves in the body can become depleted. Lower levels of zinc can lead to mood swings and agitation. Increasing dietary zinc levels may help ease anxiety and may have an antidepressant effect.

Eat oysters on their own (with that special someone) or along side some folate-rich vegetables such as asparagus or broccoli.

6: brazil nuts

If you’re stuck in a foul mood, a handful of Brazil nuts may be just the thing needed to cheer you up. Brazil nuts are one of the most concentrated food sources of free radical-fighting selenium, a trace mineral that when deficient can lead to feelings of hostility, irritability, anxiety, and depression.

In one study, participants who ate a diet high in selenium for 15 weeks reported feeling more confident, clear-headed, and elated, while those who ate a diet low in this essential mineral reported feeling worse.

Pair Brazil nuts with sliced almonds, walnuts, gogi berries and dark chocolate nibs for a healthy, home-made trail mix.  Or carry some Brazil nuts in your purse – they make a great afternoon or “on the go” snack.  About 6-8 is a good serving size.

7: spinach

It may have been the abundance of iron in this leafy green that made Popeye strong, but it was most likely the folate that kept him happy.

Several clinical studies have linked depression to folate deficiency, as low levels of this essential B vitamin appear to reduce the amount of mood-regulating serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline produced in the brain.

Spinach is great in salads.  You can also add spinach to sandwiches, smoothies and stir-fries.  Check out this flavorful salad recipe for a colorful and delicious dish to serve when company comes a callin’.

Here’s to happy days and peaceful nights.

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