5 Mood-Boosting Foods

From Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS.

While there are many factors that can contribute to “bad moods”—including clinical diagnoses for depression or anxiety—lifestyle factors also play a key role. Even the traditional Western medical community now acknowledges that exercise, stress reduction techniques, nutritional supplements and mind-body practices are all part of a natural approach to preventing or treating most mood-related disorders. Ultimately, though, the best way to tackle a crappy disposition is with a knife and fork.

Studies conducted over the past several decades, such as one published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2010, have demonstrated that people eating a traditional, whole foods diet filled with healing foods like vegetables, fruit, fish, healthy fats and grass-fed meat have a lower likelihood of experiencing both anxiety and depression. On the other hand, both children and adults eating a typical Western diet—i.e. one that is filled with packaged, processed, refined, fried and sugary foods—are more likely to experience frequent poor moods and even serious mental disorders.

In short, by making healthier food choices, you’ll be better able to nourish the body with essential nutrients, reduce inflammation throughout the body, balance neurotransmitters in the brain like serotonin and dopamine that control mood and social behavior and, ultimately, feel more energized and clear-headed.

Feeling bad? Here are five foods that can help put you in a better mood, fast:

High Protein Foods:

All complete proteins (foods that provide all essential and nonessential amino acids) are capable of naturally improving serotonin production, which is one of the most important neurotransmitters for things like good sleep, digestion and relaxation.

Research also shows that serotonin production is sometimes hindered by deficiencies in B vitamins, of which foods like beef and eggs are a great source. Meat is also a great source of vitamin D, as well as minerals that are important for mood regulation, such as zinc, iron and selenium.

So how much protein do you really need? Most adults feel their best when getting about 15-25 percent of their daily calories from a mix different animal and plant-based proteins. This usually equates to consuming about 20-30 grams of protein with every meal, which can typically be sourced from one serving of a high-quality protein powder, or a 3- to 4-ounce serving of a high-quality meat.

Wild-Caught Fish:

Foods like salmon, anchovies, sardines and mackerel have practically become incredibly popular in the health and nutrition world, mostly because they provide difficult-to-get omega-3 fatty acids. And because findings from numerous studies suggest that getting more omega-3s can protect you from things like depression, insomnia and dementia by reducing levels of inflammation, I recommend that you try to eat 1-2 servings of fatty fish on a weekly basis, or consider supplementing.

Keep in mind, however, that quality is very important when it comes to sourcing your fish. Whenever possible, opt for choices that are wild-caught—such as wild Alaskan salmon. Also, keep in mind that, while we typically only think of seafood or nuts as good sources of omega-3s, beef can also fit the bill, as long as it’s organic and grass-fed.

Fermented Or Probiotic Foods:

You may consider a paleo diet as the best way to eat like your ancestors ate, but a traditional approach to eating should also include fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut. In addition to tasting delicious, these all-natural probiotic sources of probiotics can help improve gut health and regulate production of neurotransmitters in the brain.

A great deal of research now shows that inflammation stemming from poor gut health may be a direct contributor to the risk for depressive illnesses. Inflammation is accompanied by an accumulation of highly reactive oxygen species which interfere with normal nervous system functions. However, a healthy diet that includes good probiotic bacteria and antioxidants may be able to help break the systematic inflammation cycle.

Healthy Fats (Like Nuts & Coconut Oil):

Healthy fats are important fuel for your brain and entire nervous system, as they help to keep hormones balanced, inflammation levels low and much more. Research has shown that adults eating a fairly high-fat Mediterranean-style diet have better protection against memory loss, depression and other mental illnesses. One study that compared adults getting 41 percent of their calories from fat to adults getting around 25 percent of their calories from fat found that the higher-fat group tended to experience less anxiety, anger and poor moods.

In addition olive oil and nuts, which are known to fight inflammation and providing high quality doses of omega-3s and minerals, it’s also important to remember that coconut oil is another mood-boosting option that should be added to the diet regularly. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids that are easily digested and more readily used for fuel. Additionally, coconut oil also withstands high heats without breaking down and becoming rancid better than most other fats.

Leafy Green Veggies:

As I previously mentioned, deficiencies in vitamin B6 or B12 may be tied to your mood problems. And if you’re trying to figure out why you may be running low, it may be because you’re missing your daily dose of greens.

While proteins are widely known as an easy way to load up on B vitamins, you may be surprised to learn that green veggies like spinach are also a good source of those same mood-boosting vitamins and minerals. In fact, just one cup of cooked spinach provides nearly 30 percent of your daily dose of B vitamins. I recommend that you aim to eat a variety of non-starchy veggies in all shapes and colors, as a varied diet best provides the minerals all the nutrients you need to feel your best. And because there may be a link between pesticide exposure and cognitive and psychological problems, I also recommend that you buy organic whenever possible.

Want more from Dr. Josh Axe? Read his guide to foods that make you feel crappy or check out the foods to eat for increased brain power here.

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