Does Food Improve Our Mood?

There is growing evidence to suggest that the food we eat affects not just our physical health but also our mental health, in terms of both cognitive abilities as well as the effect on our moods.  Food alone is not a cure for depression or anxiety.  However, research is showing that what we choose to eat and not eat makes a significant difference to our brains.

I hesitate to list the foods that researchers are finding to be mood boosters for concern that the reader will see the list as what they “should” be doing, adding to their depressed or anxious mood.  If you are concerned that you may be depressed, anxious or just plain feeling weighed down by life consider finding a counselor that will see you as a whole person.  Find someone that is willing to spend time gaining an understanding of the many variables that are contributing to your concerns and is willing to use many options to help you reach your goals.

That being said, I hope you will consider looking for ways to add this list of foods adapted from into your daily eating habits but please, don’t beat yourself over the head with it!

Salmon – contains high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids the heart-healthy fats that aid mood and memory.  The University of Maryland Medical Center researchers suggest that these nutrients can help lift mood, alleviate mild depression, and improve memory as well.  Oily fish like salmon is also rich in vitamin B12, which research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology shows can help in production of serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for good mood.

Eggs – contain countless nutrients to help support a healthy body and mind. Although egg yolks are commonly shunned for their high cholesterol content, they’re also rich in good-for-you nutrients. According to North Carolina State University, eggs and egg yolks are rich in vitamins D, B12, and choline, nutrients that are all important for brain development and function.

Leafy Greens – such as spinach, turnip greens and romaine lettuce—are high in folic acid, a nutrient that the National Institutes of Health report as alleviating depression and reducing fatigue. In addition, dark leafy greens are packed with magnesium. Low magnesium levels may lead to low levels of serotonin, a hormone that helps you sleep well and stabilizes your mood.

Poultry – Turkey and chicken contain the chemical tryptophan, an amino acid that helps you make serotonin. To double the mood-boost, these two types of poultry are also rich in tyrosine, another amino acid that can help the body cope with stress. Tyrosine is a building block for dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that help control your mood.

Whole Grains – According to the American Heart Association (AHA), one theory surrounding why you crave carbohydrates is low serotonin levels. Carbs are thought to boost the production of these mood-regulating chemicals.  Look for carbs rich in fiber— oatmeal, legumes, and whole grains.

Milk – is an ideal source of an array of nutrients, including vitamins A and B, calcium, carbohydrates, magnesium, phosphate, protein, riboflavin, and zinc. The Mayo Clinic suggests that consuming whey, a protein present in milk, may decrease anxiety and stress. Cow’s milk also contains iodine, a nutrient important for thyroid function. The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate almost all of your body’s functions, including metabolism and mood.

Chocolate – The boost in mood you get when you treat yourself is not a coincidence. According to the University of Texas Health Science Center, chocolate makes you feel good because it’s full of a mix of mood-elevating chemicals, including caffeine, theobromine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. Dark chocolate is an indulgence that offers more health benefits than milk chocolate. This treat usually has less fat than milk chocolate and contains antioxidants.

Walnuts – Rich in antioxidants, serotonin-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium, walnuts are beneficial to your physical and mental health. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that magnesium deficiency may cause depression, anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.

Vitamin C – deficiency is often associated with low energy, depressed mood, and irritability. Citrus fruits provide an instant burst of vitamin C.  Vitamin C also aids in your body’s absorption of iron, a mineral crucial for the production of healthy red blood cells. Beyond citrus, you can get a good boost from other foods, such as broccoli, red bell peppers, strawberries, cabbage, spinach, and baked potatoes.

On the flip side, there is mounting research showing that fast food and other processed food, including white flour and white sugar are contributing to decreased mental and emotional health.  My hope for you is that you will begin to replace any unhealthy food you are consuming daily with those listed above as part of your commitment to take care of yourself.

If you think you might be depressed, anxious or are just not enjoying your life and relationships, please consider making an appointment with a counselor today.