When we are having a bad day or feeling a little blue, we turn to our favorite comfort foods to help us feel better. But according to studies, most of the foods we consider to be comforting can end up actually making us feel worse. According to researchers, foods with high-fat and refined sugar levels increase levels of anxiety and guilty feelings. Luckily, there's a wide variety of foods that promote both physical and psychological benefits, including a reduction in stress levels, relieving anxiety and even, fighting depression. Now that's something to feel good about, right?
In fact, in 2017, the world's first study of dietary intervention for clinical depression, called the SMILES trial, found that a modified diet—which encourages whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat/unsweetened dairy, raw unsalted nuts, lean red meat, chicken, fish, eggs and olive oil, while discouraging sweets, refined cereals, fried foods, fast foods and processed meat—resulted in a significant reduction in depression symptoms.
While generally, a healthy dietary pattern is your best bet, there are certain foods that have been highlighted for their specific positive role in supporting our moods. They can have a powerful impact on our bodies, affecting them in unique ways. Certain foods may help you achieve a more restful night's sleep, reduce your risk of developing diseases, or aid in recovery after exercise. Food can also trigger "feel good" neurotransmitters in the brain, thereby boosting our morale.
Nutritionist and Life Coach Khushbu Thadani of K Weigh a Mumbai-based clinic and Gunjan Gupta, a clinical psychologist further help us understand the connection between the food we eat and how it can make us feel.
Food and its impact on your mood
"Our diet affects our cognition, focus, memory and mood," suggests Thadani. "Along with minimising inflammation and promoting healthy digestion, opting for a diet that's based around nutrient-dense, whole foods has a stabilising effect on our blood sugar levels," she adds. This, in turn, helps stabilise our energy levels, hunger and cravings through the day. Additionally, certain foods can also stimulate the release of neurotransmitters, like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins that can influence positive feelings of pleasure and reward.
Gupta echoes this when she says, "We consume food many times to feel better because there are memories or an experience attached to it. That could be why urbaners are engaging more heavily in cooking food for pleasure." The Mumbai-based psychologist further adds that food has the ability to heal you when you consume it consciously and mindfully. "At the neurological level, this happens because there is release of feel-good hormones, which lead to a holistic experience that impacts the mind and body," she explains.
Foods that improve your mood
So then, what does one eat to keep the gloomies away? Functional foods. "These are foods that offer health benefits beyond their nutritional value" quotes Thadani. "Certain functional foods can help raise levels of feel-good neurotransmitters. Regularly incorporating them in your diet can also help you naturally feel happier, more relaxed and well-rested without having to take medication, unless you're dealing with a severe mental health issue" Thadani further explains. In that case, we suggest you seek help and address it right away. And if it's just a case of regular pandemic-driven blues, then here are some foods to help get out of that mood:
Mood-Boosting Fruits & Veggies
Millennials rejoice! Avocados, commonly known for nutritious fats, have a variety of other benefits for the body. They contribute to boosting the production of hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone. Hormone levels typically become imbalanced when the body is under stress, is fighting an infection, or if you have a poor diet. These imbalances have a big impact on our mood, so one needs to regulate thes.
Asparagus is a great source of tryptophan, which helps create serotonin, one of the primary mood-regulating neurotransmitters. It also contains high levels of folate and fiber, both of which have shown to help better one's mood. Enjoy them grilled, roasted or even tossed in a pasta salad.
While most of us shudder at the thought of this leafy green, spinach is actually an excellent source of magnesium, which can help reduce anxiousness. Like asparagus, spinach contains folates and also zinc - good for both body and mind.
Bananas are one of the best sources of energy for your body. They contain high levels of potassium and B vitamins, which can provide your body with a sustained release of energy, helping you feel energized longer. Bananas also have tryptophan, iron, phosphorus and tons of vitamins.
Salmon and other fatty fish contain a variety of nutrient-rich benefits. There are two key elements that contribute to salmon being a mood-boosting food. First, the omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, which provides the mood-boosting chemical nutrient that our bodies can't produce on their own. The second is vitamin B12 and salmon contains double the daily recommended value. Getting the proper amount of B12 can aid in overall well-being.
These salty treats from the sea contain some of the highest naturally occurring levels of vitamin B12. In addition to B12, mussels and other shellfish also contain traces of other nutrients that help to balance your mood, such as zinc, iodine and selenium.
A staple in just about every household, eggs are a great mood-boosting food to add to your diet. They're loaded with the nutrient choline, which helps produce neurotransmitters that aid in bettering one's mood. Eggs are also full of amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and magnesium that help with reducing anxiousness. You can take them on-the-go as a hard boiled snack, or whip up some scrambled eggs for a protein-fueled breakfast.
Mood-Boosting Snacks & Drinks
You read that one right — chocolate, in fact, does make you happy. Dark chocolate releases endorphins and also helps to boost serotonin levels in the brain. In addition, research shows that eating a small piece of dark chocolate can lower levels of stress hormones, thanks to the antioxidants it contains.
Almonds and nuts
Whether you eat them on their own, as a mix, or even as a spread, nuts are a great source of protein and mood-boosting nutrients. Almonds, cashews and hazelnuts specifically contain high amounts of magnesium that provide energy to the body and fiber, which helps manage blood sugar levels, alongside vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that can help improve memory.
For centuries, green tea has been utilised for its variety of health benefits. It contains antioxidants and nutrients that improve brain function. For its mood-boosting properties, green tea contains L-theanine, which is an amino acid that helps keep anxiousness and mood swings at bay. It also contains caffeine, which can improve dental health and reduce bad breath, making it a great alternative to a cup of coffee.
Tarvene is a chocolate and chai fiend who is constantly on the hunt for cute cafes. You can catch her baking some Biscoff cheesecakes or binge-watching Netflix shows. She likes filling up her free time painting, listening to music or going on long drives.