February 26, 2021

Science Reveals the Best Food to Boost Mood

Natural antidepressants to the rescue.

Food is a big part of our daily life and culture. The vast options and availability of food at restaurants, stores, and our pantry can make it hard to make food choices. But these options also give us the freedom to have variety in our meals, add more fun to celebrations, or make us feel better in times of stress. Another complicating factor to food is the surge in diets that promise a healthy and lean physique - you've probably heard of Paleo, Mediterranean, Atkins, and the Keto diet.

People rarely consider how the food we put in our bodies affects our mood.

While food certainly affects our weight and how we look physically, people rarely consider how the food we put in our bodies affects our mood. Subconsciously, we sometimes choose foods that we think will make us feel better. I'm not talking about comfort food, a term used to describe food that we've associated with a feeling of nostalgia or the comfort of home. I'm talking about the foods we run to on our most distressing days: ice cream, cupcakes, cookies, and pizza. These sweet and fat-packed foods can indeed boost mood, but the effect is not as powerful and only temporary.
World Health Organization Vitamin D

Sweet and fat-packed foods can boost mood, but the effect is not as powerful and only temporary. Photo Credit.

So if sweets aren't the answer, which foods are the best for lifting mood? A review published in Current Nutrition Reports in 2020 looked at how food affects mood and how mood affects food choice. The review found that the top food that makes people happy is vegetables, followed by foods made of grains, and finally, unhealthy foods (high sweet or salt foods). Other foods that seem to improve mood are those with high antioxidant and omega-3 content - think walnuts, chia seeds, salmon, and some herbs and spices.
How we feel, it turns out, also affects our food choices. According to the review, people who feel sad or depressed are more likely to reach for high-fat, high-sugar foods. The body instinctively knows that these foods make us feel better and light up our brains' reward centers. It's even been discovered that just looking at these types of foods can improve our mood. Unfortunately, the same isn't true for gazing at a bushel of apples or a bundle of broccoli.

Natural Antidepressants

We've heard the many benefits of eating a regular healthy diet, and its link to a good mood is no exception. Deficiency in certain minerals and nutrients often found in fruits and vegetables can cause symptoms of depression. Omega-3, vitamin D, vitamin C, antioxidants, B vitamins, and zinc are just a few examples of mood-boosting nutrients.
scans of the brain

Fresh fruits and veggies have been shown to improve mental health. Photo Credit.

Fruits and vegetables are unique because they have so much nutrition in such a small package - nutrients, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and antibacterials. Fresh is best when it comes to fruits and veggies, and compared to processed alternatives, it's been shown to improve mental health. Some people worry about the sugar content of fruits, but the body is super smart and can healthily process the sugar and fiber combo.

Fruits and vegetables are unique because of their high nutrition content - nutrients, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and antibacterials

Like nutrition, hydration is just as important. Water is necessary for the many functions of the body, including the regulation of mood. Studies have shown that dehydration can lead to negative emotions like anger, depression, confusion, anxiety, and a bad mood in general.
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