Our mood can be affected by many factors: stress, anxiety, genetics, mood disorders, nutritional deficiencies, and external factors such social distancing related to COVID-19. During this time it is especially important to be choosing nutrient-dense foods to: nourish our bodies, promote and maintain optimal health, and keep our immune systems as strong as possible.
Did you know that research has shown a correlation between mental health and the foods we eat?!
Here are 5 healthy foods you can add to your diet that have been shown to have a positive effect on mood!
1. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish are not only an important structural component in our brain’s cell membrane, but they also play a vital role in brain development and signaling.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the fatty acids found in fish and other sources of seafood.
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for American recommends 250–500 mg of combined EPA and DHA per day.
RD tip: When possible choose wild caught salmon over farm-raised salmon as wild caught salmon contains a higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Aim for two, 3.5-ounce (100 gram) servings per week.
Berries are packed with antioxidants, such as anthocyanin’s (the pigment that gives blueberries their deep purple-blue color) that can help fight free radicals and combat oxidative stress in the body.
Heres’ a berry bonus!
Berries not only can improve our mood, but they also can improve our brain health.
A 2017 study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, found that the consumption of this antioxidant-rich berry was “associated with improved brain perfusion and activation in brain areas associated with cognitive function in healthy older adults.”
RD tip: Choose fresh or frozen! Frozen berries have just as much or more nutritional value than their fresh counterparts. Frozen berries, and all produce for that matter, are picked and frozen at the peak of their season, maintaining their amazing nutritional value.
3. Dark Leafy Greens
Spinach and other dark leafy greens like kale, turnip greens, and collard greens contain the mineral magnesium which has been shown to increase serotonin levels and subsequently boost mood.
They are also rich in folate, a B vitamin, which has been shown to improve mood-controlling neurotransmitters such dopamine and serotonin.
RD tip: When possible choose organic. Leafy greens have been shown, based on data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), to be one of the top produce items with the highest pesticide residue.
Walnuts are a plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids which can aid in the reduction of inflammation of cells located in our brain as well as boost the brain’s serotonin levels (our feel-good hormone).
Unlike fatty fish, walnuts contain the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds.
The National Institutes of Health recommends an intake of 1.1g ALA for adult females and 1.6 g for adult males.
A 1-ounce serving (about 7 walnuts) contains approximately 2.5 g of ALA. Meaning, it only takes about 3–5 walnuts to get your healthy serving of ALA!
RD tip: Add chopped walnuts to your favorite salad, on top of oatmeal or yogurt, or as a breadcrumb replacement on your favorite lean meat source like chicken, or, turkey, or fish.
5. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in compounds that have been shown to improve mood. One of the specific compounds found in dark chocolate are flavonoids.
Flavonoids function by increasing blood flow to the brain and boost overall brain health through their anti-inflammatory effects.
Additionally, chocolate has a hedonic rating, meaning that its pleasurable taste, smell, and texture can also contribute to an improved mood.
RD tip: Be sure to be mindful of your portion size and aim to purchase dark chocolate with 72% cocoa solids aka 72% dark chocolate to get the most health benefits! I love the 73% Dark Chocolate Wedges from Trader Joe’s (found in the checkout line).
These delectable wedges are not only healthy but are my go-to when it comes to portion control!
Be sure to pick up these 5 mood-boosting foods during your next grocery haul!
Jasmine El Nabli MS, RD
Creating healthy eating and lifestyle habits without the right tools, skills, and knowledge is often seen as a daunting task, but that’s where I come in. I am here to show you that becoming the happiest and healthiest version of yourself can be done!
Through the combination of a whole-body approach and scientific research, I empower and educate individuals on how to implement small changes into their daily life that in turn lead to sustainable and lifelong healthy habits.
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