Our minds and our bodies are connected, which is why it is so important to eat well. You’ve heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Well, you also feel what you eat. Certain foods tend to zap your energy and make you feel down in the dumps. But there are also foods that enhance your happiness and make you feel awesome mentally and physically.
Here are some suggestions of foods you may want to consider adding to your diet if you want a little more kick in your step.
Please check with your doctor before making any major changes in your diet!
According to Karl Moore’s The 18 Rules of Happiness, people who live in landlocked countries such as Germany have higher depression rates than waterfront countries, like Japan. Why do you think that might be?
It could be because those who live directly on the water have easier access to fish, which contains omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is associated with mood improvement and decreasing stress. The types of fish with the most omega-3 include salmon, tuna and sardines. Omega-3 has other health benefits as well; it also helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Salmon is a great source of Vitamin D (the “sunshine” vitamin). Studies have shown that people who are deficient in Vitamin D are more prone to depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Not a fan of seafood? Omega-3 comes in supplement form. Check your local health food store or vitamin store.
Almonds, pistachios, walnuts … All are very nutritional and tasty items to add to your diet to help boost your mood. Walnuts are particularly known for reducing stress. They are also a great source of nutrients such as Vitamin E, potassium, and magnesium, which are all key components in your overall health and well-being. Magnesium is believed to stabilize your mood by regulating sugar levels in your blood (a high level of blood sugar is a happiness-zapper).
The compounds in nuts not only help make you feel happier, but they may also help you sleep better and improve your energy levels.
This category includes spinach, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, and well… anything that is green and also leafy. These foods are a good source of B vitamins that are important for reducing depression. People who are deficient in B vitamins, particularly Vitamins B12 and B6, tend to feel blue more often than those who get plenty of it. Other foods that include B vitamins include bananas, garlic, celery, sweet potatoes, and lean meats.
Bonus, leafy greens contain lots of fiber and iron. Fiber keeps your digestive system working well, and iron keeps your mind sharp and your energy high.
Turkey & Chicken
Carnivores and omnivores rejoice! Your happiness diet does not have to be meatless. Poultry such as turkey and chicken release something called tryptophan. You might have heard of this, as it’s one of the reasons people tend to feel sleepy after a Thanksgiving meal. Your body converts tryptophan to serotonin, which is a chemical in your brain that plays a large role in how good our moods are. An imbalance in serotonin levels can lead to depression.
Just try to eat turkey or chicken in the evening, as the “sleepiness” factor does reign true!
These popular fruits are rich in that magnesium stuff we talked about earlier (under the “Nuts” section), as well as potassium and Vitamin B6. These nutrients create serotonin, which we talked about under “Turkey & Chicken”.
Tip from Jill: Dip your bananas in the melted form of the next item!
Lots of people eat chocolate for comfort. But the next time you’re choosing a chocolate bar at the store, look for dark chocolate. Some of you may think dark chocolate tastes a little bitter. Well, that bitter taste is actually a great sign — it’s the taste of antioxidants! Dark chocolate contains something called phenylalanine, which has been found to be an effective mood-enhancer. Just eat a little bit at a time.
Beans & Legumes
Adding these tasty little morsels to your diet will provide you with something called selenium. Selenium is a mineral that acts as an antioxidant, which prevents damage to your body’s cells. Studies have shown that people who have selenium in their diets have significant decreases in depression symptoms.
We would like to give honorable mention to whole grains, lean meat, and low-fat dairy, in regards to selenium.
If you’re a grain-lover, try switching your plain white bread, white pasta, white flour, and white rice with some whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, whole grain flour, and brown rice. The plain white stuff has had all the good stuff processed out of it, such as Vitamin B, Selenium, Magnesium, and Fiber (and that’s just naming a few).
But the big reason that whole grains help improve your mood is the amount of carbohydrates. Foods that are rich in carbs improve serotonin levels in your body (see “Turkey & Chicken”).
Tip from Jill: Oatmeal is my favorite of the whole grains. I make “happiness” oatmeal every morning that contains steel cut oatmeal, dark chocolate, bananas, almonds and peanut butter. Yum!
Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are awesome and delicious, which is already enough to make them mood-enhancers. But they also contain chemicals that resemble properties of something called valproic acid, a mood-stabilizing drug that doctors perscribe to people with depression disorders.
Try adding some berries to your whole grain cereal or oatmeal, or snack on some dried berries between meals.
Tea is a soothing beverage that has been used for centuries all over the world to naturally cure or relieve illnesses and their symptoms. Arguably the best types of tea to enhance your mood are green tea, sage tea and oolong tea, which can all improve your alertness and decrease overall anxiety thanks to their abundance of antioxidants.
Drop in a lemon with some honey to make it taste less antioxidant-y.
This super-food is full of calcium, protein and probiotics (“good” bacteria in your gut). But perhaps the most important benefit of yogurt is the Vitamin D, which we spoke about under the “Fish” section. Opt for a brand that does not have too much sugar added to it (you will find out in a second why added sugar can worsen your state of mind).
Stuff to Cut Back On
We think any type of food is alright in moderation, unless you have some sort of allergy or intolerance to it. Or if it’s poisonous. However, there are certain foods that you may not realize could be affecting your state of mind in a negative way:
Sugar. Consuming too much simple sugar, like the kinds you find in candy, soda, cookies, cake, and some other processed foods, can make you feel quite a bit out of sorts. They cause your blood sugar levels to spike and then drastically fall, and this messes with your mood. Try to only consume up to 25g per day (that’s one Hershey bar). Natural sugars that you find in fruits, dairy and whole grains is different than simple sugar. Unless you have other dietary restrictions you do not have to avoid those types of sugars.
Caffeine. Coffee, tea and soda-lovers may want to opt for caffeine-free counterparts. Caffeine may give you a nice little surge of energy, but it can also increase irritability by disrupting your sleep and causing your energy to plummet shortly after your caffeine “high”.
The jury is still out on this one though. There is evidence that caffeine actually enhances your mood. Again, we think the key is moderation. Try to limit yourself to 8 oz. (1 cup) of soda, coffee, or tea per day. Switch to caffeine free after that first cup.
Saturated Fat. A link was found in a study called the Coronary Health Improvement Project, which followed 348 people between the 24 and 81. A decrease in saturated fat over a six-week period was associated with a decrease in depression.
There are so many more options out there to not only improve your mood but also your overall health. Thousands of studies have been conducted and continue to be conducted on different types of food and how they can help us feel better. Feel free to suggest anything that has helped for you!
Livestrong.com, “Nutrition for Health and Happiness” .
Karl Moore, “The 18 Rules of Happiness”; 2009.
Fit Day, 9 Mood-Boosting Foods You Should be Eating.
Office of Dietary Supplements, “Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron”.
FoodReference.com, “Winter Mood Food.”
WebMD, “Serotonin and Depression.”
Psychology Today, “What is dopamine?”.
WebMD, “Foods to Help You Feel Better.”
Divine Caroline, “Ten Foods That Will Improve Your Mood.”
Whole Grains Council, “Whole Grains: An Important Source of Essential Nutrients.”
Medical Daily, “Chocolate, Berries and Tea Can Help Enhance Your Mood.”