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Eat Your Way to a Better Mood

What you eat can make a big difference to how you feel. Here's the top 10 foods evidence shows can help you eat to feel better

10 Feel-Good Foods To Boost Your Mood

By Stephanie Benfield

Along with the ongoing pandemic, the grey days of winter can make it a real struggle to maintain a sunny, positive outlook.

According to the Office of National Statistics1, the number of adults reporting depressive symptoms has doubled in the last year. While winter means many individuals also find it hard to stay on track with healthy eating, eating on average an extra 86 calories2 per day, and exercising less too.

So, if you’re struggling to stay motivated to eat healthily, be active and maintain a sunny disposition, you are certainly not alone. However, there are ways you can eat your way to a better mood.

So, what are the best mood-boosting foods to keep your spirits high and your body healthy?

1. Wholegrain Bread

The microbiome in the gut can have a real impact on mood.

Having a healthy gut is not only important for digestion, but more and more research3  is finding that our ‘second brain’, the gut, can play a major role in determining mood. Consequently, a healthy microbiome is a happy brain.

You can boost your microbiome in a variety of ways, such as with wholegrain foods which boost the number of good bacteria in the gut.

Wholegrain bread also offers the additional benefit of satisfying the carb craving, which is common if your hormones are in disarray from stress or PMS.

2. Seaweed and Foods Containing Iodine

Iodine is an essential mineral for our bodies and is something that many people do not get enough of in their diets. An iodine deficiency4  can cause a range of health consequences, including mental health concerns.

For mental wellbeing, iodine-rich food can maintain a happy thyroid which, in turn, can boost your mood.

Seaweed is one of the best ways to increase iodine in your diet. If seaweed isn’t for you, other foods that contain iodine include cod, eggs and prunes.

Using iodised table salt can also help to boost your thyroid function too, but remember to use salt sparingly!

3. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a wonder of health.

They may be small, but they’re mighty in mood-boosting benefits. As well as being a good source of protein and omega-6, pumpkin seeds also contain tryptophan and magnesium, which can improve sleep. It is no secret that sleeping better can do wonders for our mood.

The tryptophan in pumpkin seeds can also help to produce serotonin5, a mood-boosting neurotransmitter.

4. Greek Yoghurt

Another vital nutrient for our happiness and wellbeing is calcium.

Calcium helps to promote feelings of contentedness, relaxation and wellbeing. Conversely, a calcium deficiency can lead to anxiety, depression and cognitive issues such as poor memory and slow thinking.

Greek yoghurt contains more calcium than regular yoghurt or milk, what’s more, it also contains more protein, helping you stay fuller for longer making it an ideal healthy snack.

5. Spinach

A common reason for fatigue, low mood and weakness is iron deficiency.

This is a concern which is particularly prevalent among women. The energy-sapping effects of low iron can really hamper your mood and overall quality of life.

Spinach is a significant source of iron which can do wonders for your health and wellbeing.

To make the most out of the iron combine iron-rich foods with ingredients that are high in vitamin C. Vitamin C can help to increase iron absorbancy in the body, so a baby spinach salad topped with red pepper and cherry tomatoes can help you maximise your nutrient intake.

6. Bananas

Sometimes when you’re feeling down, your body craves something sweet as a pick-me-up. Instead of reaching for refined sugars, a banana can do wonders in uplifting your mood.

Bananas can help to satiate the sugar craving, but thanks to the low-glycemic index, bananas do not trigger such a high insulin spike like refined sugars do.

As well as the sugar fix, bananas also contain potassium, which can help manage the symptoms of stress, keeping you calm and in control.

7. Blueberries

Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, making them a powerhouse of mood-boosting benefits.

Antioxidants can help to reduce inflammation which is often linked to mood disorders such as depression.

One of the antioxidants found in blueberries is resveratrol which is known for its anti-ageing benefits, but some studies6 have also found that resveratrol may help to provide relief from depression and anxiety.

The vitamin C in blueberries can also help to relieve symptoms of fatigue, low motivation and depression.

8. Avocado

Avocados offer a wealth of health benefits and smashed avo on toast is now a go-to breakfast or brunch.

In terms of mood-boosting properties, the healthy fats found in avocado can help to increase happiness. Studies7 have shown that the folate in avocado can reduce anxiety while omega-3 can help boost brain health, which also has mood-lifting potential.

Avocados are also a source of choline which can help to increase serotonin – the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter – while the vitamin E offers skin-boosting benefits for wellbeing on the inside and out!

9. Chia Seeds

The versatility of chia seeds makes these superfoods so easy to incorporate into your daily diet.

Whether sprinkling on salads or turning into a comforting chia pudding, chia seeds offer a wealth of nutritional benefits.

For a start, chia seeds are full of fibre which promotes gut health – essential for a happy mood.

Chia seeds are also packed with omega-3, which is known for its depression-busting abilities and mental health benefits.

10. Chocolate!

Finally, leaving the best until last, dark chocolate is scientifically proven as a mood-boosting food.

Dark chocolate can provide an instant mood uplift thanks to its ability to boost blood flow to your brain.

The flavonols found in cocoa can help to increase concentration and boost your cognitive performance. This may explain the chocolate craving when you’re hard at work!

Dark chocolate is known to increase serotonin production, the mood-boosting brain chemical. Furthermore, chocolate contains powerful antioxidants that can reduce inflammation, further helping to increase wellbeing.

While dark chocolate offers a variety of nutrients, including magnesium, copper and iron, it is crucial to remember you only need a small amount to achieve the feel-good benefits.

All of these ten feel-good foods are easy to incorporate into your diet to help promote a happier mood.

If you need more inspiration, try:

  • Asparagus – Rich in folate and serotonin which can fight depression
  • Mussels – High in B12 and iodine to help regulate your thyroid function (and, therefore, your mood)
  • Coconut – Full of essential fats that can protect the brain and increase your mood
  • Chamomile tea – Promotes better sleep for a better mood
  • Black beans – Rich in antioxidants, copper, zinc and potassium, which all help you to feel good.

So, if you’re feeling under the weather or struggling with mood, try to resist the lure of fast food, takeaways and refined sugars, instead, opt for some of these delicious and science-backed feel-good foods.

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References

1. Coronavirus and depression in adults, Great Britain: June 2020, Office for National Statistics

2. Ma Y, Olendzki BC, Li W, et al. Seasonal variation in food intake, physical activity, and body weight in a predominantly overweight population. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2006;60(4):519-528. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602346

3. The link between gut health and happiness, Patient

4. Kapil U. Health consequences of iodine deficiency. Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2007 Dec;7(3):267-72. PMID: 21748117; PMCID: PMC3074887

5. Lin SH, Lee LT, Yang YK. Serotonin and mental disorders: a concise review on molecular neuroimaging evidence. Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci. 2014 Dec;12(3):196-202. doi: 10.9758/cpn.2014.12.3.196. Epub 2014 Dec 26. PMID: 25598822; PMCID: PMC4293164.

6. Ge JF, et al. Resveratrol Ameliorates the Anxiety- and Depression-Like Behavior of Subclinical Hypothyroidism Rat: Possible Involvement of the HPT Axis, HPA Axis, and Wnt/β-Catenin Pathway. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2016 May 24;7:44. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2016.00044. PMID: 27252679; PMCID: PMC4877500.

7. Sánchez-Villegas A, et al. Dietary fat intake and the risk of depression: the SUN Project. PLoS One. 2011 Jan 26;6(1):e16268. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016268. PMID: 21298116; PMCID: PMC3027671.

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