Food is good. It tastes delicious, it anchors us socially, it inspires special memories, and our bodies need it. And, sometimes when we polish off that pint of ice cream on the couch after an awful day, we feel better. Until we don’t.
Nutritional psychiatry is an emerging area of study that evaluates the link between food and mood.
Studies around the globe have shown that eating “healthy” foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats can protect mental health and that eating “junk” foods like potato chips and ice cream can threaten it.
“The gut is full of serotonin receptors, so it’s not surprising that scientific research into food and mood is supporting what conventional wisdom has taught us,” said Mottsin Thomas, a psychiatrist at bonmente. “Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, one also found in the brain, that is associated with feelings of happiness and with circadian rhythms. This chemical link, known as the gut-brain axis, offers new potential in helping people with anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.”
The perfect menu has yet to be put together, but research has shown fruits and vegetables are central to a mood-improving diet.
Higher fruit and vegetable consumption has been correlated with lowering the prevalence of depression and anxiety. One interesting study from 2013 showed mood improvement the day of and the day after increased intake of fruits and vegetables among young adults.
A traditional Mediterranean diet also shows promise in mental health improvement, as does a mostly vegetarian diet and the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 diet. All of these diets emphasize fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes, monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids from fish. They also stay away from processed meats, refined carbohydrates, and sweets.
So, what should you put on your plate?
There’s no doubt that ice cream band-aids and pizza binges are here to stay, but if you want to improve your mental health, they can’t be your main source of sustenance. Here are some mood-improving foods to reach for instead.
1. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate, not milk chocolate, is high in flavonoids, which increase blood flow to your brain, reduce inflammation, and improve brain health. Talk about a pick-me-up.
Yogurt, like other fermented foods, helps sustain populations of healthy bacteria in your gut, which may increase serotonin levels. Research is ongoing, but it appears to show connections between a healthy gut microbiome and lower rates of depression.
Step aside apples, it’s time for bananas to get the limelight. Full of vitamin B6, which helps with dopamine and serotonin production, bananas provide a slow sugar release and helps prevent energy dumps that can cause mood dips.
A 2019 study over 10 years and following nearly 16,000 people found that eating nuts was linked to a 23% lower risk of depression. Brazil nuts, pine nuts, and almonds contain brain-important minerals zinc and selenium.
5. Coffee & Tea
Both coffee and tea have demonstrated an antidepressant effect, with one study of 50,000 women finding that 2-3 cups of caffeinated beverages decreased the likelihood of depression by 15%. If coffee give you the jitters or prompts anxiety, try green or black tea.
bonmente offers comprehensive treatments and guidance to manage anxiety, depression, and all other mental health issues. Schedule an appointment with our mental health providers today.