There are many factors that can influence our moods, and nutrition is one of them. The direct link between food and mood is complex and not fully understood, but research has shown strong links between certain nutrients and keeping us happy. Based on this evidence, here are our top 15 foods to give your mood a natural boost. Get munching and start smiling…
One of the quickest and easiest ways to banish a spell of midday blues? Try a banana. Not only do they come small enough to fit in your handbag (not to mention conveniently wrapped) but they are packed full of fatigue-busting carbohydrates, immune system-boosting anti-oxidants, potassium, zinc and magnesium (need we go on?)
“A lack of magnesium is linked with depression, inattention and insomnia,” says Dr Carrie Ruxton, a nutritionist at the Health Supplements Information Service. “Pre-menstrual mood changes can be helped by magnesium. One study gave 360 mg a day of magnesium or a placebo to women with premenstrual syndrome. After two weeks, mood was better in the group which received the magnesium supplement. Dietary sources include nuts, beans, brown rice, wheat flakes, bananas and leafy green vegetables.”
Bananas apparently work best with other mood-boosting foods, so try blending a sunny smoothie of bananas, blackberries, fortified soya milk and a spoonful of peanut butter for a real taste of happiness.
There’s a reason why the health conscious are so hell-bent on lentils. Not only do the hearty pulses contain high levels of soluble fibre, protein and folic acid – all of which are thought to help boost your mood (we’ll get to those later) – but they’re also particularly rich in good carbohydrates.
Eating lentils as part of a meal – in a soup perhaps, or a curry – will give you a natural, sustainable energy lift, unlike refined sugary foods which can cause dramatic peaks and troughs in blood sugar levels. The more energy you have to carry out tasks during the day, the more productive you feel and the less fatigued – two scenarios that are thought to keep us at our happiest.
It may seem unlikely, but eating seafood has several mood-boosting benefits. Sea-dwelling creatures like prawns, shrimps and oysters among others, contain a mineral called selenium, which works in tandem with vitamin E to expel toxins from the body and maintain healthy skin. Several studies have also indicated that selenium deficiency can cause depression and anxiety in some people:
“Low selenium intakes can lead to negative mood states, including depression,” Dr Carrie Ruxton says. “A UK study showed that a selenium supplement significantly improved mood, and decreased anxiety and depression. More than half of UK women consume too little selenium so it’s a good idea to top up.”
Vegetarian? Brazil nuts are also a great source of selenium, so try working a few into your diet at breakfast.
- DARK CHOCOLATE
Ever wondered why you reach for a bar of Cadbury’s when you’re feeling blue? Dr Elisabeth Weichselaum, a nutritional scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, may just have the answer:
“There are some foods that can make us feel particularly good. One of those foods is chocolate and any other sweet and palatable foods. This is because our body releases endorphins when we eat these foods. Endorphins are chemicals that act on the brain to produce pleasant feelings; in other words, they make us feel good. However, be aware of eating lots of sweet and fatty foods as you may gain some extra pounds, which in turn may leave you feeling rather unhappy.
There is no need to cut out these ‘feel-good’ foods in the course of a healthy and varied diet, but it’s best to eat only limited amounts of foods high in sugar and fat.”
For maximum happiness, opt for dark chocolate, like Green & Blacks.
- EGG YOLKS
It appears there may be more to the phrase ‘sunny side up’ than meets the eye. Egg yolks are rich in protein, omega 3 and 6 fats, our old friend selenium, and vitamin D – a nutrient we absorb mostly from the sun that has been linked to mood. As the long days of summer fade into the shorter, darker winter months, our bodies naturally absorb less vitamin D from the sun, so it makes sense top up on dietary sources instead.
Egg yolks also contain the chemical choline, which is vital for brain health, and tryptophan, which aids the production of the happy hormone serotonin. Not keen on eggs? For a low-fat option, try fortified soya milk instead.
Apart from being delicious, the humble blackberry is jam-packed with antioxidants, vitamins, soluble fibre and folic acid. Low levels of folic acid in the blood stream have been linked to depression: scientists at Cardiff University have found that increasing your intake of soluble fibre can prevent fatigue by up to 10 per cent, suggesting that a perkier, more energetic mood during the day will keep you feeling happier for longer.
What’s more, they’re incredibly low in calories (just 12 kcal per ounce). We’re grinning at the thought!
- SWEET POTATOES
We can’t think of anything we’d rather get our chops around than a freshly-baked sweet potato, especially if its nutritional benefits are anything to go by. Each orange spud contains high levels of anti-oxidants vitamin A and C which work together to boost the immune system, potassium, and high levels of soluble fibre.
Soluble fibre slows down the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, and can potentially help to regulate your blood sugar levels, keeping them constant and thus helping you maintain a consistently good mood. They’re also a great source of slow release carbohydrates, giving you the energy necessary to power through the day.
- SUNFLOWER SEEDS
Small but mighty, sunflower seeds certainly make up for their tiny size in nutritional benefits. Each little shell is filled with folic acid, soluble fibre, vitamin E and essential omega 3 and 6 fats, all of which combined have been linked to the increased production of serotonin in the brain – the ‘happy’ hormone that naturally occurs in the body to help lift and regulate our moods. Try scattering a handful in with your cereal in the mornings and see if you feel a difference.
Ever wondered why Popeye was so chirpy all the time? Well, research has shown that munching on spinach may have done more for the muscle-bound sailor than simply increasing his iron intake. The leafy green vegetable is also rich in soluble fibre and magnesium – both of which have been linked to mood.
It has been suggested that magnesium deficiency can cause anxiety and depression, as well as other symptoms of stress, so topping up your daily intake with a couple of handfuls of the green stuff may just be enough to banish those post-summer blues.
“I’ll put the tea on…” is a phrase we often here during a sorrowful time, but it seems that having a good old fashioned mug of builders brew when you’re feeling blue is more than just an eccentric English tradition. According to Dr Carrie Ruxton, tea has several therapeutic benefits:
“It’s well known that a cup of tea improves mood. The reason is thought to be the unique combination of caffeine (around 50mg per cup) and L-theanine, a type of amino acid which creates relaxing feelings. Despite concerns about high caffeine intakes, up to 400mg per day can actually benefit mood and mental performance.”
11. NETTLE TEA
If you’re trying to reduce your caffeine intake and want a similar mood-boosting buzz, try a steaming cup of nettle tea instead. The herbal infusion contains several immune-system-boosting anti-oxidants including flavonoids, minerals, vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, calcium and malic acid, which is thought to improve the skin. Nothing compliments a dazzling smile better than a lustrous complexion, surely?
We thought not. Nettle tea is also believed to aid in the lowering of blood sugar levels, improving digestion and even relieving pain, so if you’re looking for a good herbal all-rounder, this is definitely it.
The grain of champions, buckwheat is a hardy cereal that has rich nutritional properties. Firstly, each tiny husk is stuffed full of B vitamins, which have been linked to improving energy levels and mood, and are thought to be involved in the production of serotonin in the brain. Secondly, it’s a great source of slow release energy. Thirdly, buckwheat also contains the amino acid tryptophan – the vital protein used to make serotonin in the brain.
Try picking up a few buckwheat snacks at your local health food shop, or throw a handful into a soup for a good hearty hug-in-a-bowl meal.
What DON’T they contain is more the point. Avocados are packed to the nines with smile-inducing B vitamins (including B6), the amino acid tryptophan, which is used to make serotonin in the brain, mood-enhancing vitamin E and folic acid:
“More than 50% of women have low folate intakes,” says Dr Carrie Ruxton “A lack of folate in the diet has been linked with irritability, apathy, fatigue and anxiety. Women likely to become pregnant need additional folic acid.”
Not keen on avocados? Broccoli, spinach, peas and wholegrain cereals are also good sources of folic acid.
14. SOUR CHERRIES
Had a bad night’s sleep? Woke up feeling cranky the next day? Part of the reason for your morning blues – other than the fact you’re really tired, is that the serotonin levels in your brain haven’t had the chance to replenish properly.
When we turn our lights out at night, our bodies start producing a hormone called melatonin which is crucial to inducing the deep and restful state of sleep needed to repair your body and keep you feeling chipper the next day. Sour cherries are a particularly rich source of natural melatonin, so munching on a handful before you hit the sack may just help you to doze off. Sweet dreams!
If you’re feeling a little lack lustre, adding some chili to a meal may just be enough to put a smile back on your face:
“Other foods that can make us feel good are spicy foods,” says Dr Elisabeth Weichselaum. “This is because our body releases endorphins when our pain receptors are exposed to ‘hot’ substances. The endorphin response seems to vary between people, which may explain why some people like their foods very spicy whereas others prefer mild dishes.
“Altogether, the best you can do for your mood is to eat a healthy and balanced diet, and look out for ‘triggers’ that may affect your mood in a negative way, such as caffeine for example.”