Megan writes about health and wellness issues, among other topics.
Most of us have heard the saying “you are what you eat,” and know that it's true to some degree. Although a lot of other factors determine how much we weigh and what we look like, food plays a big role. The general consensus in the scientific community is that maintaining a healthy weight is 75% dependent on food and 25% on exercise. But did you know that food also plays a part in our emotions? On a cellular level, you need a balance of certain nutrients, and if that balance is off, you can feel off, too. Even if you routinely eat a healthy diet, certain foods can give you a boost if you’re feeling down.
But First, Foods to Avoid If You're Feeling Blue
The main idea here is to offer suggestions of foods you should eat to combat depression or anxiety. Before adding in any of those foods, however, it’s important to know which foods can make you feel worse, and which you should therefore avoid. If you are struggling emotionally, cut these foods from your diet:
- Excess sugars
- Deep-fried foods
- Simple carbs (i.e. bread, white rice)
Most of us know these foods aren’t the best for us, but we often ironically turn to them when we are feeling down. These foods (and alcohol, obviously) can act almost like drugs—many people have a dependency on sugar or carbs, and don’t even realize until they go on an elimination diet and start suffering from withdrawal symptoms. If these foods are a staple of your diet, to avoid feeling even worse, cut them out gradually rather than going off of them cold turkey. To bypass withdrawal symptoms, a good rule of thumb is to cut down by 1 serving every 3 days.
7 Mood-Boosting Foods
Depression, anxiety, or short term negative emotions can wreak havoc on our health and our relationships. Its important to take action to be able to get to feeling like your normal self, and medication is not the only answer. Whether you are looking to make long term improvements to your diet, or are in need of a quick pick-me-up, try some of these foods and you might just feel a difference.
Often times, when people are caught looking like they’re having a bad day, one of the first suggestions offered to them is “eat some chocolate.” While eating large quantities of chocolate ever day can cause the opposite effect, a small amount of (preferably dark) chocolate every now and then can make us feel happier. Our body reacts to chocolate in the same way it does to serotonin, a hormone we produce naturally that improves our mood. The flavonoids in chocolate produce pre-serotonin, which causes this reaction. A few bites of chocolate can instantly make you feel a little better if you're feeling down.
Eating any vegetable is good for you and your mental health—one study suggests that eating enough fruits and veggies may decrease your chance of developing a mood disorder by as much as 62%. The chemistry in your brain must be balanced to ward off depression, and vegetables contribute to maintaining that balance. Folic acid, in particular, needs to be present in the body in sufficient quantities for you to feel happy. Asparagus contains high levels of folic acid, and when you eat a serving of it a few times a week you could start to feel better as that balance begins to be restored.
Avocado has been touted as a superfood. Some of the oldest living human beings claim their secret to longevity is eating an avocado a day. There are all kinds of health benefits that come with avocados, such as the healthy fats and antioxidants they contain. They also contain tryptophan, a mood enhancing amino acid more commonly associated with turkey. Tryptophan promotes a feeling of well-being and relaxation. It can also help regulate sleep, and can be useful in combating sugar or carb addiction if consumed during the weaning off period.
In one study, seaweed consumption made a significant difference in whether or not pregnant women experienced depression. Popular in Japanese cuisine, is rich in many nutrients, notably potassium, magnesium, and iodine. Deficiencies in these nutrients, especially iodine and magnesium, have been linked to depression and anxiety. Seaweed can help replenish these nutrients that we don’t often take in regularly from other foods.
The topic of neurogenesis, or growing new brain cells, and the link it may have with curing depression, been explored in recent years. Although very complex, put simply the “Neurogenesis Theory” suggests that since your body is constantly regenerating brain cells but losing them at the same time, individuals who suffer from depression must be losing brain cells faster than they can be replaced. Berries, blueberries in particular, have been shown to potentially speed of neurogenesis. Apart from their ability to make new brain cells to make up for those lost, blueberries also contain flavonoids similar to chocolate that can improve your mood.
Nuts may act in the same way that prescription antidepressants do, without the unwanted side effects and dependency that often come with those drugs. A ½ ounce serving of cashews contains 470mg of tryptophan, which may be enough to act on a therapeutic level. Cashews also contain magnesium, a common mineral deficiency that can cause depression. B Vitamins are also found in many nuts. B Vitamins have been shown to act as an energy booster, and some even prefer foods high in B Vitamins over caffeine for an afternoon slump. Walnuts may also be particularly beneficial when you’re feeling down—they contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, another common deficiency that can lead to anxiety.
Yogurt is often touted for its health benefits, particularly for its high concentration of probiotics, which are “good” bacteria that may help maintain balance in the digestive system and ward off problems like diarrhea and constipation. Not only can those symptoms can be uncomfortable, but they can also cause depression if they are a chronic issue. Healthy probiotics can play a role in combating food cravings, which may be an issue whether you are just having a bad day or suffering from longer term emotional problems. When choosing yogurt, go for full-fat rather than low fat or sugar free varieties. Those can leave you feeling hungry, and artificial sugar can worsen depression or cause headaches.
A lot of things determine your mood and how you feel. Don’t let what you are eating or not eating contribute even more to your negative emotions. If you struggle with sugar or carb cravings, start working on a plan to slowly cut those out of your diet or to limit them. If you are having a bad day, try some of the foods suggested above, and continue incorporating them in to your diet a few times a week. They may make all the difference.
Have You Had Success With These Mood Boosting Foods?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on July 03, 2020:
You've mentioned some delicious foods :) blueberries especially are a super healthy food and I love asparagus too mmm.
Ryan from Louisiana, USA on June 19, 2017:
I love most of these foods that you listed. Especially chocolate and asparagus. I will definitely have to put these mood swinging foods to the test and see how they will affect me. Thanks for sharing these wonderful hub with us readers.
Megan Machucho (author) from Milwaukee, WI on February 14, 2017:
Thanks everyone for the feedback and suggestions! And yes, it's just as important to avoid the bad stuff. Sugar (from my morning mocha habit) seems to be my downfall lately!
Megan Machucho (author) from Milwaukee, WI on February 14, 2017:
Great suggestions! We like them frozen, they taste like ice cream!
FlourishAnyway from USA on February 14, 2017:
Blueberries are good if one puts them in muffins or something delicious, preferably with lemon. In a pie they are amazing.
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on February 12, 2017:
Seaweed? Too salty. I don't care for it at all. Love asparagus, and avocado in salads, sandwiches, or as guacamole, but not plain to just eat alone. Love blueberries, but not the commercial, huge ones; they seem to have had all the flavor bred out of them. But, oh, my...the wild ones found in the state of Maine..hard to find, and expensive when you do.
And of course, chocolate goes without saying, and the darker, the better. I am a devout chocoholic! (White chocolate is not worthy of the name; to me, it just tastes like sweet grease, and no chocolate flavor!) ;-)
RTalloni on February 12, 2017:
These should be called the super foods! Chocolate tops the list, naturally, but asparagus, avocado, and seaweed surprised me. We eat the other items on your list almost every day. Trying to absolutely avoid the no-nos! Thanks for the healthful info on these foods.