We spend more time than we care to admit. We try new things like , and to bring peace and joy into our lives. And when we think about the things that make us happy, our diet is usually not at the top of the list.
However, the food we eat plays a big role in how we feel. In the past decade, studies have emerged linking diet and mental well-being, and certain foods are associated within our brain. Serotonin, also known as the “happy hormone”, is a chemical that plays an important role in regulating our mood. Low serotonin levels can cause mood swings.
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7 foods that make you happy, according to science
Here are our favorite foods that make you happy.
1. Dark chocolate
You know the typical scene in movies where a girl is sitting on the couch in a sweat, eating a tub of chocolate ice cream. Turns out Hollywood is on to something. A systematic review found that dark chocolate can positively affect one’s mood. There are three main components found in chocolate that are associated with feelings of happiness: tryptophan, theobromine, and phenylethylalanine. Tryptophan is an amino acid that the brain uses to produce serotonin. Theobromine is a mild stimulant that can improve your mood. Meanwhile, phenylethylalanine is another amino acid that the body uses to produce dopamine, which acts as an antidepressant.
If ever there was such a thing as a “feel-good food,” bananas are probably it. But maybe not in the way you think they are. Although bananas contain serotonin, it is unable to cross the blood-brain barrier (think of the BBB as a wall that filters what can and cannot enter our bloodstream and make its way to our brain). But bananas can play a key role in regulating your mood in a more indirect way. Your body needs vitamin B6 to make serotonin, and bananas are especially rich in this nutrient. One medium-sized banana contains up to 0.4 mg of vitamin B6, which is approximately 25% of the daily recommended intake.
If you have the winter blues and dream of warm days, coconut can transport your taste buds and mood to a tropical state of mind. Coconut is full of medium-chain triglycerides, which can help boost your energy. Another reason coconut is considered a mood food is that a 2017 animal study found that MCTs from coconut milk can reduce anxiety. More research is needed to fully understand the relationship between anxiety and coconut in humans.
This is for the 1 billion coffee drinkers in the world. Now you can justify your coffee intake (in moderation of course) because coffee makes the world a happier place, one sip at a time. A 2016 meta-analysis concluded that coffee consumption was significantly associated with a reduced risk of depression. Another small study concluded that coffee—both caffeinated and decaffeinated—significantly improved subjects’ moods compared to those who consumed a placebo drink.
Other generations may say that avocado toast is to blame for Millennials not owning houses, but one thing is for sure – avocados make us happier. This smooth and creamy fruit is packed with nutrients, including choline, which your body uses to regulate your nervous system and mood. A 2020 study found that the healthy fats in avocados were linked to reduced anxiety in women. Another great reason to consume more avocados is that they are rich in vitamin B, which is linked to lower stress levels.
Did you know that consuming more fruit is also associated with better mental health? A 2016 meta-analysis found that fruit and vegetable intake was highly associated with improved mental health. Berries, in particular, are rich in antioxidants, also known as flavonoids, which may reduce symptoms of depression. Another study where subjects were given blueberry juice showed promising results linking blueberry intake to slower age-related cognitive decline.
7. Fermented food
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, and yogurt help maintain a healthy gut and can also help improve your mood. The fermentation process creates probiotics, which in turn support healthy bacteria in the gut. Now, what does your stomach have to do with your mood? A lot. Up to 90% of the serotonin produced by your body is made by intestinal cells. Thus, eating fermented foods promotes better serotonin production.
Mushrooms are packed with vitamin D which has been linked to anti-depressant qualities and can improve your mood. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you’re in luck, because mushrooms are the only non-animal food source with a significant amount of vitamin D that’s bioavailable (easily absorbed by the body). To get the most vitamin D benefit from mushrooms, expose them to sunlight for a few hours before cooking them.
Too long, didn’t you read?
When you’re not feeling your best, your first instinct may be to reach for a packet of cookies or a sweet treat. While these may give you some satisfaction, they probably won’t help your mental health in the long run. Instead, opt for nutrient-dense foods like those on this list to give you a boost of happiness.
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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or health goals.