The foods that make up our diet can have a profound effect on our day-to-day lives, and I don’t just mean that junk food can make you fat. Our brains—and the rest of our bodies—are complex chemical engines. Deprived of vital nutrients, our brains can take it out on us in the form of a variety of mood imbalances from mood swings to depression-like symptoms. Experts agree: keeping your brain happy keeps you happy and can proactively combat pesky belly fat. From co-author of The Happiness Diet, Drew Ramsey M.D. lists these 10 foods to improve your mood and keep your brain and body healthy.
1. DARK CHOCOLATE
Everyone knows that reaching for a chocolate bar makes you feel better, but there is science to back up those cravings. Unfortunately, the science also says that you only need a few ounces a day at the most so all of your friends were right: chocolate binging is bad for you.
Not only will chocolate improve your mood, but it will also improve blood flow, focus and clarity. To keep your chocolate consumption strictly as a mood aid, reach for dark chocolate instead of a milk chocolate alternative. Milk chocolate might be creamy and delicious but it’s mostly sugar and milk. Quality dark chocolate will have a higher concentration of the active ingredient cocoa and therefore be more effective without packing on extra calories for your day.
A brief lesson in chemistry: serotonin is the chemical in our brain that makes us feel good and regulates our mood. Tryptophan is a chemical that our bodies use to produce serotonin, and no other plant is as packed with tryptophan as asparagus. Turkey is also high in tryptophan, but of course turkeys aren’t plants. Not only is asparagus a great source of mood-regulating tryptophan, but it is also abundant with concentrations of folate. Recent studies suggest that low levels of folate can be contributive to depression or mood imbalance.
Fun fact: don’t mix asparagus and chocolate to create a powerful mood booster. It probably works, it would just taste horrible.
While you can’t exactly pop a few mussels in your pocket for the commute in to work, they are an effective part of a mood-regulating diet. They’re also a great part of a regularly healthy diet; mussels are protein rich and aren’t as fatty or calorie heavy as other seafood options. What earned them a spot on this list is the high concentrations of vitamin B12 that can be found in mussels.
B12 is a nutrient that we could all do with a little more of. It helps protect the individual cells in your brain making them more resistant to degradation related to age. Additionally, mussels contain thyroid regulating nutrients such as iodine, zinc, and selenium. Your thyroid regulates your mood, and a healthy thyroid will keep your mood balanced.
4. CHERRY TOMATOES
Full-sized tomatoes are just big cherry tomatoes, but the distinction is important for our purposes. Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene. Antioxidants are amazing when it comes to repairing and preventing damage to our bodies and lycopene in particular can help prevent inflammation in the brain. This inflammation can lead to depression symptoms so a healthy brain means a healthy mood.
Lycopene is found in the skin of the tomato, so this is where the cherry variety come into play; a handful cherry tomatoes has more lycopene-rich skin than a single full size tomato does. Interestingly enough, olive oil has been found to aid in the lycopene absorption process and has a bunch of health benefits in its own right. A handful of cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil should be in order for your next salad; you can serve it as a side to your mussels.
5. SWISS CHARD
Magnesium-rich Swiss chard is that richly colored leafy green is not only chock full of nutrients but can be a helpful mood regulator. Like soybeans and spinach, the concentrations of magnesium found in Swiss chard can help with energizing feelings and fight depression-like symptoms. Magnesium is a nutrient that is essential for many of the reactions that happen inside of our brains, and it is in short supply in many diets.
6. GRASS-FED BEEF
Much of the commercially raised beef in the supermarket is fed a steady diet of grain. While this method is cheap and will bulk up animals quickly, it is not an ideal diet. Beef that has benefited from a grass-based diet will be healthier, starting with a lower fat content. Additionally, grass-fed beef has higher concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids than grain fed alternatives and a fatty product known as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA can help reduce stress hormones and can have a positive effect on belly fat.
If you’re already eating lots of lamb, that’s a healthy alternative as well. Grass-fed lamb is rich in iron which is related to mood stability and memory retention.
7. BLUE POTATOES
While French fries, crisps, and chips are all technically made out of vegetables, you’re only lying to yourself if you think that makes them healthy. White potatoes fry a nice golden yellow, but they are pretty deficient of nutrients and once they hit the oil they’re no good for you.
Blue potatoes can be hard to find, but specialty grocers and farmer’s markets are a good place to check. Like the antioxidant laden tomatoes, blue potatoes are full of antioxidants called anthocyanins. These powerful compounds protect brain cells from inflammation—which regulates mood—and help improve memory. If you can’t find blue potatoes, black beans and eggplant are also rich with anthocyanins.
8. GREEK YOGURT
Greek yogurt has seen a recent resurgence and that emerging trend comes with a good reason. Yogurt is a cocktail of goodness; protein, calcium, and digestion aiding probiotics to name a few. If you’re not getting enough calcium in your diet, you can experience negative mood side effects like anxiety, depression, and irritability.
While there are many calcium-rich dairy options on store shelves, Greek yogurt is a good choice because in addition to the other benefits that yogurt provide, it is higher in protein then standard yogurt options. Pay attention, however, to hidden calories, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup in fruit-heavy Greek yogurt options. There are healthy choices that boost calcium without packing on the pounds.
Conventional wisdom says that table sugar, or refined sugar, is bad for you (especially in the quantities that we eat). So it may seem odd that such a sugary substance has found its way onto this list. The truth is that honey has much more to offer than sugar; it is packed with inflammation-reducing compounds and depression-reducing characteristics. Add some to a bowl of heart-healthy oatmeal, or stir a spoonful into tea, but do yourself a favor and don’t eat it by the spoonful—honey isn’t a low calorie option.
The scientific community has been on the fence about the health benefits of eggs. Recently, we’ve begun to understand more about the ‘good cholesterol’ and that tips the scales in favor of eggs. Eggs are pretty incredible. They are packed with iodide, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc; all of which have serious mood-regulating properties.
Eggs are also a healthier alternative to processed grains or carb-heavy breakfasts, and there is a multitude of delicious ways to prepare them. There is also a significant source of controversy surrounding the ethical treatment of chickens, but there are cruelty-free options that exist for the conscientious shopper.