Eat these foods more often to enjoy a better mood, say scientists. Your nutrition impacts your mental health more than previously understood. Scientific evidence shows how to eat to improve your mood, and potentially beat anxiety and depression. Yet, certain foods harm mental health.
Chocolate is a popular mood booster. Here’s how it works: the cocoa flavanols in dark chocolate trigger more neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin) to be produced in the brain. When there are more of these neurotransmitters in your brain, your mood increases. The same applies to tryptophan, found in mushrooms.
Perhaps you tend to reach for ice cream in moments of sorrow. Trade that tub of ice cream for a fruit or vegetables suggests science. According to researchers, your happiness is just one more fruit or vegetable away. After surveying over 12,000 Australians, researchers discovered that for every extra portion of fruit and vegetable an adult ate each day, their happiness increased exponentially. Populations who eat a lot of plants (vegetarians) are proven to enjoy a healthier mood. Sadly, among those who eat fewer fruits and vegetables, evidence shows a high occurrence of depressive symptoms.
Some of the best fruits to eat to be happier, include apples, berries, and grapes. Many people suffering from depression have high levels of MAO enzymes, and this enzyme can be blocked by quercetin found in these fruits. How does eating this food make you happier? By blocking MAO enzymes from breaking down neurotransmitters that make you happy, you get to enjoy a better mood. Kale and tea are other good sources of quercetin.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in algae, seaweed, and fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, anchovies) are integral to the brain and nervous system. These essential fats regulate which neurotransmitters are being made, and impact signal pathways in the brain and nervous tissue development. As such, it’s no surprise evidence shows a lack of omega-3 fatty acids is common in those struggling with mood-related illnesses, and eating omega-3 containing foods can boost your mood. Yet, most Canadians do not eat enough omega-3 fatty acids, particularly among high-risk populations, such as pregnant women and the elderly. Research from McMaster University reporting long-term care residents had lower omega-3 intake levels that what is estimated to prevent age-related diseases.
Some of the most common foods we eat in the Western diet have been linked with a higher risk of depression by scientists.
Evidence supports that healthy foods such as olive oil, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, poultry, dairy, and unprocessed meat have been linked with lowering the risk of depression. Eating these healthy foods may even improve depressive symptoms.
However, it’s important to clarify that eating healthy is not about perfection. Having good eating habits is about making efforts to nourish yourself with the majority of the mouthfuls you take – not every mouthful. All or nothing mentalities about food can lead to frustration, sadness, and disordered eating. Success is the movement towards a healthier lifestyle; not perfection. Holistic nutrition is not a “diet” – but a healthy lifestyle that fits into your life and goals, and that incorporates your whole person (body, mind, and spirit).
READ MORE ABOUT FOOD AND MOOD:
Evolution of well-being and happiness after increases in consumption of fruit and vegetables. American Journal of Public Health 2016 Aug; 106(8):1504-10.
Associations between long-term adherence to healthy diet and recurrent depressive symptoms in Whitehall II Study. European Journal of Nutrition 2020; 59:1031-1041.
Vegetarian diets are associated with healthy mood states: a cross-sectional study in Seventh Day Adventist adults. Nutrition Journal, 2010 June, 9(26).
Do the types of food you eat influence your happiness? UC Merced Undergraduate Research Journal 2017; 9(2).
Will healthy eating make you happier? A research synthesis using an online findings archive. Applied Research Quality of Life 2021; (16):221-240.
The science of tea’s mood-altering magic. Nature 2019 Feb; 566, S8-S9.
Acute effects of tea constituents L-theanine, caffeine, and epigallocatechin gallate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Rev 2014 Aug;72(8):507-22.
Food, mood and brain health: implications for the modern clinician. Mo Med 2015 Mar-Apr; 112(2): 111-115.
Nutritional aspects of depression. Cell Physiol Biochem 2015;37(3):1029-43.
Contributed by Allison Tannis
Known for her deliciously geeky words, Allison’s articles and books are read around the world by those curious about where to find the most delicious (and nutritious) places to stick their forks. More at allisontannis.com. Follow @deliciouslygeeky.