We all know that what we eat has a direct impact on how we feel physically, but some might be surprised to find out just how much our diet influences our emotional well-being, too. We recently spotlighted Uma Naidoo, MD, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who explains that she always discusses "the important role of diet in helping to manage anxiety" when coming up with a treatment plan because nutritional health is correlated to hormonal and neurological function.
Even with this knowledge, not everyone has the time or the means to stick to a high-maintenance diet. So we reached out to registered dietician nutritionist and travel writer Abigail Kinnear to learn which foods are worth adding to our meal plans and ordering routines, thanks to their mood-enhancing vitamins and minerals. Of course, a positive mood and emotional health are influenced by much more than just food, so keep in mind that a holistic approach is most effective.
That said, science does back up the fact that certain foods improve mood, and if flamingos are cheerfully pink because of the algae they eat, then we're willing to give it a try, too. Except we'll pass on the algae, and lucky for us, Kinnear's breakdown of mood-boosting food isn't all about scarfing down lame vegetables and restricting everything delicious. In fact, chocolate is definitely invited to this happy food party. So if you're looking for simple ways to improve your mood during meal-time, keep reading.
The Mood Booster: EGG YOLKS
The Happy Dance: "Egg yolks are a good source of vitamin D, which is a regulator of brain serotonin synthesis. Serotonin plays a role in a wide variety of brain functions and behaviors, including mood," Kinnear explains.
The Nutritionist Tip: This doesn't just happen with any kind of egg though. As Kinnear clarifies, you should "always choose free-range eggs. These chickens have access to the outdoors and sunlight, which is essential in producing vitamin D. In turn, free-range eggs have higher vitamin D content than conventional eggs, as conventional chickens do not have access to the outdoors."
The Mood Booster: CHOCOLATE
The Happy Dance: "Researchers found that consumption of dark chocolate reduced cortisol secretion (the hormone that relates to stress) in the short term when exposed to a stressful situation," Kinnear tells us. "Researchers think this has to do with the flavonoid (an antioxidant) content of dark chocolate." So maybe that's why we're so drawn to pints of chocolate ice cream when we're feeling stressed.
The Nutritionist Tip: "Choose dark chocolate above 70%, as this has higher flavonoid content than milk or white chocolate," she advises.
The Mood Booster: SALMON
The Happy Dance: Kinnear suggests salmon as well, which contains omega-3s that, according to researchers, "increase the release of serotonin and make serotonin receptors more accessible. Serotonin is a hormone our bodies produce which has a wide range of cognitive effects, including controlling mood."
The Nutritionist Tip: "Both farmed and wild salmon provide a good source of omega-3 fatty acids," she says.
The Mood Booster: GREEN TEA
The Happy Dance: "Green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that helps reduce stress and anxiety," Kinnear tells us. "In animal studies, L-theanine has been shown to increase serotonin, dopamine, and GABA—all of which have behavioral effects. In humans, studies have been mixed and more research needs to be done."
The Nutritionist Tip: In China and Japan, green tea has long been hailed for its relaxation effects. So while the verdict is still out on the science behind it, it won't hurt to add a cup of green tea to your day.
The Mood Booster: MUSHROOMS
The Happy Dance: Kinnear reveals, "Like egg yolks, mushrooms are a good source of vitamin D, which is a regulator of the serotonin pathway."
The Nutritionist Tip: "Buy (or forage!) wild mushrooms or mushrooms treated with UV light, as these are a good source of vitamin D. Commercially grown mushrooms are often grown in the dark and don't provide a good source of vitamin D," she explains.