Let’s face it. The standard American diet packed with processed foods containing unhealthy carbs, sugars, fats, additives and more is pretty grim for physical health and for mental health. In fact, an unhealthy diet of primarily overly processed foods that are high in sugar and carbs can set you up for moodiness, anxiety and even depression.
Thank goodness, however, that the reverse is true, too. A healthy diet—with good, clean, wholesome food—can boost your mood and outlook. So, let’s begin with a day starter for many people—caffeine—specifically caffeine from coffee. Yes…coffee. If you weren’t aware, coffee can be extremely healthy for you—in everything from lowering your risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, while supporting brain health, liver health and more.
Coffee is also loaded with important minerals such as magnesium and chromium as well as antioxidants. Speaking of antioxidants. . . you are most likely getting more antioxidants from your coffee than you realize. Studies from 2004 indicate that “coffee was the single biggest contributor to total dietary intake of antioxidants.” Additionally, it’s believed that the rich antioxidant content in coffee “dampens inflammation,” and may be the protecting factor against gallstones, liver cancer and other types of cancer.
Of course, prudent coffee intake is what we’re talking about here. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, then you may want to limit it, since it can temporarily increase your heart rate and blood pressure. You’ll also want to steer clear of coffee that’s loaded up with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, trans fats and other bad-for-your-health ingredients. For instance, use freshly ground organic coffee beans, be careful to not overdo it with your creamer—and choose organic cream when you do use it.
Now, back to how coffee can boost your mood. A 2011 study out of Harvard School of Public Health discovered that women who regularly drank at least two cups of coffee daily had a 15 percent lower risk of depression than those who didn’t drink any coffee. Interestingly, the risk for depression dropped by 20 percent with drinking four or more cups of coffee a day. Why the mood benefits? For one, caffeine triggers the release of the brain chemical dopamine, which is instrumental in improving mental outlook and for sharpening one’s focus.
Then there are “happy” and healthy fats such as omega-3s, which maintain function in brain areas that are responsible for mood and emotion regulation. Likewise, studies show that people who have low levels of omega-3s may be at increased risk for depression and anxiety. Eating just two seafood meals a week, for example, was associated with lower rates of depression. If seafood’s not your thing, then walnuts and avocados are also good sources of omega-3s. Of course, you want your omega-3 sources to be as "clean" as possible, so choose wild and/or organic sources.
And don’t forget about tryptophan, an amino acid the body can’t manufacture on its own, but must come from food. It’s what’s in poultry, nuts and eggs that chills us out, making us feel calm and content. Tryptophan is necessary for making serotonin, a neurotransmitter often associated with happiness and well-being.
If you really want to boost your mood, then add some spinach or garbanzo beans, which are full of the B vitamin folate, to your source of tryptophan. Higher blood concentrations of folate are linked to a decrease in negative moods, clinical depression and fuzzy thinking. However, since folate is water soluble, you need to replenish your stores of it daily.
You can also spice up your mood with curcumin (the pigment that makes the spice turmeric bright yellow in color), chili peppers (with capsaicin) and saffron. Turmeric has a natural antidepressant quality, can potentially protect neurons from damage due to chronic stress and has been linked to the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine—both of which are key to keeping your mood lifted. Chilies contain capsaicin, which, via setting off pain receptors in the mouth, also tells your brain to release feel-good endorphins. Additionally, saffron can help keep mood swings in check by keeping serotonin more available to the brain.
And there you have it—delicious ways to boost your mood!