We’ve all had periods of minor depression where we just can’t get unstuck. When that happens, many people don’t know what to do. Some people will try to wait it out, but without tangible changes, it’s unlikely that things will improve. Other people will look for a quick fix. The problem is that hard drugs like cocaine may feel good in the moment, but they come with a plethora of side effects. Others will turn to the advice of a doctor, psychiatrist or other healthcare professional. This usually results in a prescription and therapy that can last for years. This is a great choice for many people, especially when there is a severe clinical diagnosis. Other people will choose holistic remedies. This may also be a good choice when problems are not clinical in nature. Quick fixes are designed to help you get out of a rut, but it’s better to then work on building some healthy habits that lead to more sustainable improvements to your life. Sleep and regular exercise are near the top of the list. Your diet is also important, and there are some foods that you can consume on a regular basis that may help you to balance your mood.
If you drink too much coffee, you’ll overload your body with caffeine and could get the jitters. You could also become irritable, either by having too much caffeine in your system, or not enough once your body becomes dependent on it. But, in moderation, coffee can boost your mood. Your body produces a chemical called adenosine, which attaches to brain receptors that trigger you to feel tired. The caffeine in coffee works by blocking this attachment, while it instead triggers the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine nd norepinephrine that trigger a positive mood.
As with coffee, too much of a good thing can be bad for you, and dark chocolate is no exception. It’s already high in fat, and is usually high in sugar. These extra calories can lead to weight gain, which can often lead to a cycle of depression. But in moderation, dark chocolate contains caffeine, theobromine, and one interesting chemical: N-acylethanolamine. This substance is similar in structure to cannabinoids like CBD. While it’s not the same as a tincture of CBD oil, there are some studies that link it to mood enhancement. Just keep in mind that its level is low in dark chocolate, and experts continue to debate its effectiveness. What is clear about dark chocolate is that it’s high in flavonoids, which increase blood flow to the brain and may help with mood regulation.
Some of the best foods you can incorporate into your diet are bananas. You’ll get a sugar boost, but this is paired with a large dose of dietary fiber, which helps stabilize the sugar in your bloodstream to prevent mood swings. In addition, they contain high levels of vitamin B6, which your body uses to synthesize dopamine and serotonin, commonly referred to as feel-good neurotranmitters.
Fruits and Vegetables
Bananas aren’t the only fruit with mood boosting qualities. In general, diets rich in fruits and vegetables are correlated with lower rates of depression. Leafy greens like spinach are high in the B vitamin, folate, which is necessary for metabolizing serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. Among fruits, berries are among the highest in antioxidants and phenolic compounds. These natural chemicals help to reduce an imbalance of other chemicals in your body, known as oxidative stress. Blueberries and other purple or blue-colored berries also contain anthocyanins that are linked directly to a lower risk of depression symptoms. Other great mood-boosting vegetables include spinach, edamame, avocado, broccoli, and turnip greens.
Oats and Whole Grains
It’s easy to buy a container of oatmeal that lasts for months on the shelf. You can also find it in many other forms, such as muesli or granola. Oats are high in fiber, which stabilizes your body’s absorption of carbs to help stabilize sugar-induced mood swings. Other whole grains are great, too. Like oats, they’re high in B vitamins like thiamin and pantothenic acid. But, oats have the advantage of being high in iron, too. Low iron can result in anemia, which can lead to fatigue and other mood disorders.
Nuts and Seeds
It’s well-known that hikers rely on packets of nuts and seeds for energy during long, uphill walks. In addition to containing high levels of protein for muscle repair, they’re great energy boosters, thanks to their high concentration of healthy fats and fiber. Like bananas, they contain tryptophan for a nice serotonin boost. Among nuts, peanuts are easy to come by, and cheap. You can also try almonds, cashews and walnuts. If you prefer seeds, then try sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds. Some nuts and seeds, including Brazil nuts, almonds, and pine nuts also contain high levels of zinc and selenium. Deficiencies in these minerals are linked directly to reduced brain function.
Beans and Lentils
In may ways, beans and lentils are very similar to nuts and seeds. They’re a great source of plant-based protein, and they also contain lots of natural energy boosters. You’ll find a wide assortment of mood-boosting B vitamins including B12 in them to improve your levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and GABA. This suite of vitamins also helps with neural signals throughout the body.
Your body requires Omega-3 fatty acids from outside sources. They’re considered essential fats because you can’t produce them, and must rely on dietary sources. Salmon and Albacore Tuna are great sources of Omega-3’s including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are tied directly to lower levels of depression. They also help with brain development and nerve signals. If Salmon and Tuna don’t appeal to you, then try other oily fish like sardines and mackerel. If you aren’t eating enough fish, then consider supplementing your diet with fish oil, or try a vegetarian source of Omega-3’s like chia seeds.
There’s a reason that many people feel food cravings for things like kimchi, sauerkraut and other pickled vegetables. These, along with yogurt, kombucha, buttermilk, and other fermented foods are full of good bacteria. These probiotics not only improve your gut health, but they may increase your serotonin levels. Just keep in mind that if you are immunocompromised, there’s a chance that you could contract a fungal or bacterial infection from consuming them.
Foods High in Vitamin D
Last, but not least on our list of mood-boosting foods are those that contain high levels of Vitamin D. These include fatty foods like cheese and egg yolks, along with Vitamin D fortified foods like milk, soy milk, and orange juice. It’s likely that your body produces plenty of Vitamin D when your skin is exposed directly to sunlight. However, some people can have a Vitamin D deficiency, especially during the winter. So, keep those levels up to reduce the likelihood of Seasonal Affective Disorder.