We are currently living in a depression epidemic, and the pandemic has only exacerbated those feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and deep sadness. And although the number of people on antidepressants is on the rise, so are suicide rates, binge drinking, and liver disease caused by alcoholism. So, where is conventional medicine going wrong?
There’s a popular saying in addiction medicine that you can never get enough of something that almost works. Synthetic medications don’t get to the root of the problem; often, they mask symptoms, leaving us numb and with no desire to make tangible change.
Mother nature, on the other hand, never skimps. She digs down to the root of the problem and heals it. Studies show that there are clear links between diet and mood. The average American diet is loaded with processed foods and artificial sweeteners that wreak havoc on our mental and physical health. Our food system primarily produces disease-causing foods, and what more and more research is discovering is that these diseases are related to mental health.
The old saying “you are what you eat” has never rung more true. More neurotransmitters are going from our gut to brain than our brain to gut. That means that what we eat directly affects how we think, act, and feel.
In this article, we’re sharing the 15 mood-boosting foods that work with your body, not against it. We’re not saying that all conventional medicine is bad; it can be life-saving in many situations— but we are saying that there are more natural and accessible tools without nasty side effects. Cleaning up your diet may be one of the most effective and accessible ways to support a balanced mood.
15 Foods To Boost Your Mood
Cacao, not milk chocolate—but the raw, unrefined cocoa bean that makes chocolate—is an incredible mood booster. It’s important to note that we’re not talking about a Hersey’s bar here. While that immediate sugar high may make you feel good, it will cause you to crash and wreak havoc on gut and brain health! Say no to artificial sweeteners and sugars when it comes to chocolate and opt for cacao instead.
Cacao contains several antioxidants, including polyphenols which are known to reduce depression and anxiety. It’s also high in flavonoids which increase brain flow to the brain, reduce inflammation, and promote brain health—all of which are fabulous for mood regulation.
But probably the most fascinating fact about cacao is that it produces phenylethylamine, the chemical responsible for the euphoric feeling you have when falling in love. This natural antidepressant works synergistically with dopamine and helps to boost endorphins and internal cannabinoids like anandamide (N-acylethanolamine). Pinned as the “bliss chemical,” anandamide has been linked to improved mood.
Even more, cacao is a rich source of magnesium to help us relax and chill out.
Did you know that up to 90 percent of your body’s neurotransmitter serotonin (happy chemical) is produced by your gut microbiome?! And that more neurotransmitters go from your gut to your brain than from your brain to your gut. That means that what you eat directly affects how you think and feel.
Fermented foods are loaded with probiotics that support healthy gut bacteria. Research is beginning to show the connection between a healthy gut and lower rates of depression. (1, 2, 3)
Including fermented foods in your diet like kimchi, kombucha, kefir, and sauerkraut can support gut health and boost mood.
Lentils are an excellent source of B vitamins, which help to increase feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and GABA, which all work to regulate mood. One of the most important vitamins is folate, which helps develop the nervous system and keep it healthy. Folate deficiency has been associated with depression, and increasing your uptake may help to boost mood. Lentils also contain B6, which helps to make mood-boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Low levels of B6 have been associated with depression (4,5).
Furthermore, they are a great source of selenium, zinc, and magnesium, which help you stay healthy and relaxed.
You can easily increase your intake of lentils with a cool summer salad or a warm stew.
You could’ve guessed that this comfort fruit was excellent for mood.
Bananas are high in vitamin B6 which works to synthesize feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine (6). And because bananas are a great source of fiber, they allow for slow release of sugar into the bloodstream resulting in better mood control. An imbalance in blood sugar levels can lead to mood swings and irritability, but opting for a banana will beat that (7).
Sardines and other fatty fish like salmon contain high levels of omega-3s will do wonders for mood support. Sardines contain high levels of B12, selenium, protein, and vitamin D (ah, the sun!).
Research shows that omega-3s contribute to the fluidity of the brain’s cell membrane and play an important role in cell signaling and brain development. Several trials even found that consumption of omega-3s via fish oil lowered depression scores.
More specifically, two types of omega-3s, DHA and EPA are linked to lower levels of depression.
Avocado, the creamy, rich fruit, is filled with fiber, vitamins B5 and B6, vitamin E, and Vitamin C.
Specifically, vitamins B5 and B6 help to synthesize our mood-boosting neurotransmitters and support the adrenal glands (which are a lot of times burnt out due to stress overload). Include this nutritious food in your smoothies, salads, and even baked goods for a spirit elevator.
Turmeric’s primary compound, curcumin, has a positive impact on neurotransmitter function. Which makes sense why dozens of research trials have proven turmeric’s effectiveness in reducing depression symptoms in animals.
One study published by Phytotherapy Research looked at 60 subjects diagnosed with major depressive disorder. The study split the subjects into a turmeric curcumin group, a fluoxetine group, and a combination of the two. Researchers found turmeric curcumin group to be as equally as effective as fluoxetine in managing depression.
Another study looked at 108 participants and found that curcumin effectively reduced depression symptoms more than the placebo.
To learn more about the health benefits of turmeric, check out this article!
Also known as the “dopamine bean,” mucuna pruriens is a natural herbal supplement and adaptogen used to lower stress, elevate mood, improve focus, and boost libido.
Mucuna pruriens contains high levels of naturally occurring L-dopa, which is the precursor for dopamine! As you may know, dopamine is a brain chemical that plays an important role in pleasure, motivation, and emotions. When we lack dopamine, we end up unmotivated, lazy, unfocused, anxious, and even depressed.
As an adaptogen, mucuna pruriens can regulate hormones and help your body handle stress and stay in balance.
By incorporating a mucuna pruriens supplement in your daily regimen, you can help support your body’s production of dopamine while elevating mood and motivation.
Blue Lotus is a flowering plant that has been used for thousands of years to uplift mood. Its two main active compounds are nuciferine and aporphine. While oddly enough, nuciferine is believed to act as a dopamine receptor blocker, aporphine acts similarly to dopamine, stimulating a euphoric and happy feeling.
The effects of blue lotus are often described as dreamlike, euphoric, and relaxing. Some report that it helps them open up emotionally and socially. The flower’s sedative properties are all thanks to its high antispasmodic properties, which work to calm stress and relieve anxiety.
Its vitamin B content also helps to improve mood, as we’ve learned.
You can find blue lotus in an extract powder form and make it into a yummy morning latte.
Similarly to how inhaling a citrus essential oil like lemon or wild orange can help boost mood, consuming citrus fruits can also help to energize and elevate spirits. Citrus fruits are packed with vitamin C, which helps to absorb iron. Adequate levels of iron are critical for fighting fatigue and feeling motivated. Stock up on lemons, limes, grapefruits, and oranges to help support a happier mood.
Now that you have a whole new arsenal to support your mental health, what are you most excited to pick up on your next trip to the grocery store? Let me know in the comments below.
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