Top Ten Foods to Boost Your Mood When You’re Feeling Blue

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Jun 11 2012 - 9:32am
serotonin, mood-boosting foods, nutrition

Serotonin is a brain chemical that is known to impact your mood. Keeping levels in balance can help promote a feeling of calm, well-being, mental alertness, control and an increased ability to deal with stress. Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a cardiologist and author, shares his top ten foods to help boost serotonin levels and improve your mood.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that helps relay signals from one area of the brain to another. Of the approximately 40 million brain cells, most are influenced either directly or indirectly by serotonin. These include those cells related to mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation, and social behavior. When serotonin is low, or is unable to reach its receptor sites, researchers believe that it leads to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Many pharmaceutical antidepressants work by improving the body’s use of serotonin.

Diet can influence our supply of serotonin. Tryptophan, an amino acid, is the building block our bodies use to make serotonin. Foods high in tryptophan include dairy, nuts, and poultry. Dr. Sinatra recommends including foods high in tryptophan, as well as other mood-boosting nutrients, in the diet to help keep brain chemicals in balance.

1. Nuts and Seeds – researchers from the University of Barcelona found that men and women eating almonds, walnuts and Brazil nuts had higher levels of serotonin metabolites. In addition, just one ounce of mixed nuts a day may also help reduce obesity, blood pressure and blood sugar.

2. Ocean-going cold water fish such as salmon and mercury-free tuna contain omega-3 fatty acids which can help improve depression symptoms. A past study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that volunteers with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had fewer depression symptoms and a more positive outlook.

3. DHA is a particular form of omega-3 fatty acid that can be found in many foods. But including organic DHA-fortified eggs in the diet will also provide a good source of protein and tryptophan. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that when people eat eggs for breakfast, they feel more satisfied and therefore consume fewer calories throughout the day compared to a high-carbohydrate breakfast, such as a bagel.

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4. Flaxseed is another great source of omega-3 fatty acids. They also are rich in magnesium and B-vitamins, nutrients that help us combat stress.

5. Soy isoflavones may also help with mood and mental function. These foods are also rich sources of vegetarian (no-cholesterol) protein which may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease as well. Add soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, miso, and soy milk to your daily diet.

6. Many fruits and vegetables are also known to help boost your mood. These include asparagus, lentils, chickpeas, beans, squash, and sweet potatoes. Look also for magnesium-rich leafy greens, apples, peaches, bananas, and artichokes.

7. You may have shied away from avocado because it is high in calories and fat, but take another look. This fruit is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, antioxidants, and potassium.

8. Skip the processed, refined grains (known to drain energy levels) and choose instead to eat whole grains such as brown rice, wild rice, barley and spelt. Whole grain, high-fiber carbohydrate can help boost your mood and keep it regulated all day instead of the dip in energy you feel after munching on white flour and simple sugar.

9. It is true that turkey and other poultry contain a great source of lean protein and tryptophan. But do maintain moderation in consuming foods high in arachidonic acid (AA), found in animal based foods. Some studies have found that switching to a plant-based diet can help with mood. But when you do include poultry in the diet, be sure to go organic to avoid chemicals that can interfere with your body’s balance of serotonin.

10. Last, but certainly not least, is dark chocolate which contains an antioxidant known as resveratrol. This nutrient can help boost brain levels of endorphins and serotonin, helping to improve your mood. The recommended dose is one ounce per day (not the whole bag!)

With a mood-boosting diet change, don’t forget to include exercise as well. Regular exercise can be as effective for depression treatment as antidepressant medication or psychotherapy. Just getting out for 30 minutes can have a huge impact on your outlook for the rest of the day.

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