Have you ever grabbed a slice of pizza or a sugary donut to lift your mood when you felt low? If your answer is yes, then you are not in it alone – most of us have done it at some point. However, the real question is “Does it really bring you any happiness?”
Our brain has a reward system and when we eat foods that we crave, like junk food, a chemical called dopamine is released in the brain that makes eating even more pleasurable. The brain gets overwhelmed by these tasty foods and, in turn, produces more dopamine, making us want more junk food. Unfortunately, while this gives temporary happiness, junk and other unhealthy foods increase the risk of obesity, which can lead to diseases like diabetes and heart diseases.
So, if you really want to keep your brain and body happy and in shape, choose the right foods. Here’s a list of healthy foods that can boost your happiness.
1. Leafy Greens
“Eat your greens!” That command from childhood reverberates even now, doesn’t it? But, there is more to leafy greens than just being healthy. Researchers report that eating vegetables, especially the dark, green leafy ones, can boost your moods.
Dark green vegetables like kale, swiss chard, and spinach are rich in magnesium – the nutrient essential for muscle relaxation and regulation of blood sugars.1 These also contain vitamin C that can improve overall mood.2
Fish are a great addition to the diet as they improve your levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can brighten your mood and improve cognitive function. In fact, eating fatty fish like salmon and trout twice or more a week can improve your heart health, too.3 In addition, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) found in fatty fish has been found to be helpful in fighting depression as well.4 So, if you are a meat lover, grill some salmon with some steamed or grilled vegetables to boost your mood.
If you are a vegetarian and don’t really know where to get your omega-3 fatty acids, just include flaxseeds in your diet.5 Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – a type of omega-3 fatty acid – that may be important for brain health and development.6 Apart from flaxseeds, chia and pumpkin seeds can also boost the production of your happy hormones and lift your moods.
When it comes to seafood, oysters have a great reputation in relation to love and fertility. But, oysters are a lot more than just an aphrodisiac. They are good sources of zinc: 100 grams of the seafood contains a good 40 mg of zinc.7 Why you need this is because zinc deficiency is linked to mood disorders that range from mild anxiety attacks to serious cases of depression.8 So, having oysters for a meal can give you nothing but joy!
Bananas are a common favorite when it comes to fruits. Bananas are easy to digest, contain plenty of fiber, and provide multiple health benefits. But, can they make you happy? Yes! Bananas are rich in potassium, an important mineral in the body that gets depleted due to stress. Potassium also regulates serotonin production in the body that is known to modulate mood.9
Bananas are quite versatile. They can be eaten as a whole fruit or even blended with milk or yogurt to make a smoothie. They can even be a great substitute for sugary foods like donuts because of a low glycemic index – meaning it does not spike the sugar levels in the blood, resulting in a crashing low.
Blueberries are one of the superfoods. They are rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, and other nutrients that are good for health and also for your mood. Rich in flavonoids, research states that blueberries can decrease the risk of depression in children and adults and improve negative moods.10 So, if your breakfast bores you, add some blueberry toppings to pancakes or yogurt or have a fresh blueberry juice for that morning boost.
There is a link between a healthy gut and your brain. It may sound weird to you but research has shown that a healthy gut is responsible for your mood swings as well. This is because most of the serotonin (a chemical that regulates mood) production in the body occurs in the digestive system.11
So, a happy gut means a happy you. To improve your gut health and the functions of the good bacteria present in it, have fermented foods like yogurt, coconut kefir, kimchi, kombucha, and natto.
8. Maca Root
Maca root, a cruciferous vegetable, is thought to be native to Peru and has been used for medicinal and culinary purposes. Available in powder form and as capsules and liquid extract, maca powder is rich in minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. It has been popularly used to treat sexual dysfunctions and to improve fertility.12 But research shows that maca can ease anxiety and depression, especially in postmenopausal women.13
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that contains nutrients like B complex vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, selenium, and gamma linolenic acid (an essential fatty acid).14 Taking a closer look at these nutrients, you will observe that it has almost all the minerals that are important to boost the brain chemicals that uplift your mood.
Spirulina can absorb heavy metals and therefore, it should be purchased from a trusted brand. You can mix the powder in water and drink it. You can also add a bit to your favorite smoothies.
Having a diet rich in carbohydrates is not harmful as long as you choose the right sources of carbs. Chickpeas, lentils, nuts, oats, brown rice, potatoes, sweet corn, wholegrain cereals, and starchy vegetables are good sources of complex carbohydrates and can promote serotonin levels in the body.15
Serotonin plays an important role in sleep cycles, mood, and appetite. Therefore, an increase in good carbs like chickpeas increases serotonin levels, which stabilize your moods and keep you positive.
11. Dark Chocolate
For chocoholics, this is good news! Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has a significant effect on mood. It has been found that cocoa flavonols play a role in improving cognitive performance.16 Unfortunately, the regular chocolate bars that we purchase from stores don’t count!
Dark chocolate, that contains cocoa, stimulates the production of endorphins – chemicals in the brain that create feelings of pleasure. So, if you feel low, dark chocolate can do you some good, provided you don’t go overboard with it either.
There is a strong relationship between the foods you choose to eat and your state of mind. Having timely meals and avoiding foods that can make you feel sluggish can improve your overall well-being.
|↑1||The Impact of Magnesium Deficiency on Well-Being. Nutritional Magnesium Association.|
|↑2||Carr, Anitra C., Stephanie M. Bozonet, Juliet M. Pullar, and Margreet CM Vissers. “Mood improvement in young adult males following supplementation with gold kiwifruit, a high-vitamin C food.” Journal of nutritional science 2 (2013).|
|↑3||Blondeau, Nicolas, Robert H. Lipsky, Miled Bourourou, Mark W. Duncan, Philip B. Gorelick, and Ann M. Marini. “Alpha-linolenic acid: an omega-3 fatty acid with neuroprotective properties—Ready for use in the stroke clinic?.” BioMed research international 2015 (2015).|
|↑4||Logan, Alan C. “Omega-3 fatty acids and major depression: a primer for the mental health professional.” Lipids in health and disease 3, no. 1 (2004): 25.|
|↑5||Parker, Gordon, Neville A. Gibson, Heather Brotchie, Gabriella Heruc, Anne-Marie Rees, and Dusan Hadzi-Pavlovic. “Omega-3 fatty acids and mood disorders.” American Journal of Psychiatry 163, no. 6 (2006): 969-978.|
|↑6||Alpha-linolenic acid. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑7||Basic Report: 15167, Mollusks, oyster, eastern, wild, raw. United States Department of Agriculture.|
|↑8||Piao, Meihua, Xiaoqiang Cong, Ying Lu, Chunsheng Feng, and Pengfei Ge. “The Role of Zinc in Mood Disorders.” Neuropsychiatry 7, no. 4 (2017).|
|↑9||The Power of Potassium. Mental Health Food.|
|↑10||Khalid, Sundus, Katie L. Barfoot, Gabrielle May, Daniel J. Lamport, Shirley A. Reynolds, and Claire M. Williams. “Effects of Acute Blueberry Flavonoids on Mood in Children and Young Adults.” Nutrients 9, no. 2 (2017): 158.|
|↑11||That gut feeling. American Psychological Association.|
|↑12||Gonzales, Gustavo F. “Ethnobiology and ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a plant from the Peruvian highlands.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012 (2012).|
|↑13||Brooks, Nicole A., Gisela Wilcox, Karen Z. Walker, John F. Ashton, Marc B. Cox, and Lily Stojanovska. “Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content.” Menopause 15, no. 6 (2008): 1157-1162.|
|↑14||Spirulina. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑15||You Are What You Eat: How Food Affects Your Mood. Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science.|
|↑16||Nehlig, Astrid. “The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance.” British journal of clinical pharmacology 75, no. 3 (2013): 716-727.|