Bummed out? Stressed out? Tuckered out? You know that reaching for junk
food isn’t going to help. But, you may be able to actually elevate
your mood by eating certain foods.
“Studies show that there may be a link between nourishing your body
and mental wellness,” says Megan Wroe, RD, wellness coach and registered
Synergy Wellness, located at the
St. Jude Centers for Rehabilitation & Wellness in Brea. “You may not see dramatic differences, but it’s entirely
possible that you could get a boost to make you feel better.”
Here are some foods believed to help you kick it into a happier gear:
Chocolate. We’re not talking about candy bars, but eating
one-ounce portions of
dark chocolate on a regular basis is believed to reduce stress hormones. Experts believe
it’s the antioxidants in chocolate which boost brain levels of endorphins
(natural opiates) as well as serotonin, which is a mood-altering chemical
found in many antidepressants. These antioxidants are present in natural
cacao so you can get that same boost by adding cocoa powder to your smoothies
and oatmeal or topping yogurt with cacao nibs!
Fiber-rich carbohydrates. Researchers suspect that carbohydrates also promote serotonin. In a study
in the Archives of Internal Medicine, people who followed a very-low-carbohydrate
diet for a year experienced more depression, anxiety and anger than those
who ate low-fat but high-carbohydrate foods. Be careful when choosing
your carbohydrates, however, as low fiber and low glycemic choices can
lead to blood sugar fluctuations, which cause symptoms of anxiety and
depression. Choose whole grains, like wild rice and
quinoa, or starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes and squash!
Dark-green leafy vegetables. Here’s one more reason to eat your spinach, as well as your asparagus
and Brussels sprouts. They’re high in folate, a B-vitamin that may
help reduce symptoms of depression. The brain needs folate to synthesize
norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. Boosting the folate levels of
depressed patients has actually helped them improve their mood. Aim to
eat at least one full cup of green veggies every day as part of the recommended
three to five daily vegetable servings. Spinach, chard and other dark
leafy greens also contain magnesium, which can positively impact serotonin
levels and boost your mood. About half of all Americans are low in magnesium,
which may impact our high levels of depression and anxiety. In addition
to your greens, add magnesium-rich pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, chickpeas
and beans to your meals.
Oily, fatty fish. By fatty fish, we’re talking about those with good oils like salmon,
tuna, sardines and rainbow trout. These are rich in
omega-3s—a key mood-boosting nutrient our bodies don’t produce. But
there’s a catch: Omega-3s actually come from the seaweed and algae
that fish eat in the wild, so farmed fish, while still high in protein,
does not actually offer this brain-boosting nutrient! And here’s
a bonus for salmon lovers: Your favorite fish also contains vitamin B-12,
which produces brain chemicals that help keep depression at bay.
Saffron. A study from Iran shows that women with PMS noticed a definite improvement
in their symptoms when taking saffron capsules. Researchers believe that
the spice is a kind of natural Prozac, helping make serotonin more available
to the brain.
Coconut. This island delight actually stops your “fight or flight” response
when you’re stressed, thereby lowering your heart rate. In a Columbia
University study, people who inhaled coconut fragrance recovered more
quickly from being stressed out over a challenging task. Look for unsweetened
coconut flakes, since those with added sugar can create that blood sugar
crash. Add unsweetened flakes to nuts, seeds and dried fruit for a super
tasty and energizing morning muesli!
Tea. It’s not coffee, but good old caffeinated
black, green or oolong tea can make you more alert. Experts believe theanine—an amino acid
in these tea varieties—may work alongside the caffeine to help your
attention and focus. But you can’t be timid about the tea. To enjoy
the benefits, the study suggests drinking five to six (eight-ounce) cups
of tea daily.
Blueberries - It’s the high content of antioxidants known as flavonoids that
make these little blue wonders so terrific. Blueberries help activate
brain pathways associated with better cognition and they’re associated
with creating a more positive mood. Defrosted blueberries make a deliciously
syrupy addition to yogurt and pancakes, so keep a batch in your freezer
to enjoy them all year long!
Turkey – We all know how turkey is supposed to make you sleepy, but recent
studies show that tryptophan – an amino acid in turkey –acts
as a precursor to serotonin and could reduce the impact of social anxiety
disorders. To achieve a mood boost instead of a post-poultry crash, keep
portions to the size of your palm, and pair them with lots of colorful veggies!
Chewing gum - The repetitive action of chewing on gum can promote relaxation and reduce
anxiety and stress. It can also increase alertness and blood flow in the
brain. That is, unless you’re in company that finds a mouth full
of chewing gum distasteful.
Want to adopt one particular type of food? Experts say, "Go Mediterranean.” A diet rich in veggies, whole grains, olive oil, wild fish and
nuts can help reduce depression symptoms. And besides, a Mediterranean
diet is also good for heart health, which should really make you happy
about your food choices.
And remember, simply changing your diet can’t solve all concerns
with mental health. If you feel the signs of anxiety or depression aren’t
going away, seek professional help. Working with an expert is a lot more
effective than simply raiding the refrigerator.
St. Joseph Health's primary care physicians and specialists can improve
your mood by helping you be your healthiest, from diet and nutrition,
to mental health and wellness. Click
here to find a St. Joseph Health doctor near you in the Western United States.
To learn more about the wide variety of health promotion and wellness
services offered at Synergy, click
here or call us at (714) 578-8770.
What's your go-to food that makes you feel better without filling up
on junk? Share your favorites in the comments below.