Biting into a piece of dark chocolate or eating a bowl of your favorite food may bring a temporary smile to your face, but experts say there are ways to prolong that fleeting feeling of joy.
“There is a food-mood connection,” says nutritional psychiatrist Dr. Uma Naidoo, director of nutritional and metabolic psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author This is Your Brain on Food. “Any changes you make in your diet will not happen [boost happiness] overnight but it will have an impact over time.”
Want happiness that lasts long after your next meal? These eight foods can help.
Add turmeric to soups, stews and smoothies. Curcumin, the active ingredient that gives turmeric its yellow color, has been shown to have antidepressant effects.
For the biggest effect, Naidoo suggests using ¼ teaspoon of turmeric daily and adding a pinch of black pepper, adding, “Black pepper makes curcumin 2,000 percent more bioavailable.”
Fermented tea can quench your thirst and improve your mood. Kombucha is full of probiotics and live microorganisms that appear to have antidepressant effects. Other fermented foods, including tempeh, miso, kimchi and sauerkraut can have similar effects on mood, according to Ramsey.
“Eating fermented foods leads to a more diverse group of bacteria in the gut [and] which tends to calm our overactive immune system,” he added. “Fermented foods are one of the food categories that can have a big impact on mental health.”
A little cinnamon has big mood benefits because it’s loaded with antioxidants, fights inflammation and protects against neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, Naidoo says. It also seems to have a positive effect on mood so go ahead and sprinkle the flavorful spice on toast or add it to coffee for a little cheer.
A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to a lower risk of depression. The happiness superfood is also high in vitamin B12, a vitamin associated with positive mood—and may even help ward off depression or enhance the effects of antidepressants.
5. Leafy vegetables
Stock the salad bar. Collard greens, spinach, kale, cabbage and other leafy greens contain high levels of magnesium, a nutrient that can increase serotonin, the so-called happiness hormone. Leafy greens also contain a lot of fiber.
“Fiber feeds the microbiome,” says Dr. Drew Ramsey, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and author Eating to Overcome Depression and Anxiety. “How clearly you think [and] how anxious you feel…is dictated by the diversity of organisms living in your gut.”
There appears to be a relationship between depression and the amount of Lactobacillus in the gut. Eating yogurt reintroduces powerful probiotics and can actually reverse symptoms of depression.
“Probiotics can be very powerful when it comes to improving mood even when compared to [antidepressant] medicines,” said Naidoo.
Following a vegan diet? Many plant-based yogurts also contain probiotics.
The fewer beans, peas and lentils in your diet, the higher your risk of depression. The benefits of adding legumes to your diet appear to come from the high levels of magnesium, tryptophan, fiber, folate and omega-3 fatty acids associated with improved mood.
Grab a handful of almonds as a snack or add them to a salad, yogurt or oatmeal. Regular consumption of nutrient-rich snacks has been linked to lower rates of depression and better mood. Ramsey credits the healthy fats in almonds and other nuts for mood-boosting benefits.
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