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Food Can Support a Good Mood

by Sarah Curran, MHS, RD

In times of uncertainty, many people turn to food to help soothe their mood. Feelings of anxiety and depression can have a direct effect on what you eat. Alternatively, what you eat can affect your mood. Research on the relationship between diet and mental health is relatively new and at this time inconclusive, but there is a growing body of evidence that food may play an important role. While no one food or nutrient can alone boost your mood, a balanced eating plan with a variety of nutritious foods can support your emotional well-being.

Is there a special diet that I should follow?

  • Avoid fad diets that promote rapid weight loss, require rigid rules, and eliminate entire food groups, all of which can impact your mood negatively.
  • No one diet fits all, but the Mediterranean eating pattern, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and olive oil, has been extensively studied in relation to its positive effect on depression, anxiety, and stress.
  • Eat three meals a day at regular 3-4 hour intervals and begin with a balanced breakfast.

Are there foods or nutrients to include for a better mood?

  • Focus on foods that are in their most whole and natural form over those that are highly processed with added sugar.
  • Fill your plate with rainbow colored fruits and vegetables for their diverse antioxidant properties like anthocyanins in berries and carotenoids in dark leafy greens.
  • Go for whole grains that are loaded with B-vitamins which aid in the production of serotonin, the feel good hormone.
  • Try two servings a week of omega-3 rich fish such as salmon or find this essential fatty acid in flaxseeds and walnuts.
  • Pour yourself a glass of vitamin D fortified dairy milk or soy beverage as low levels of this nutrient have been associated with depression and mood disorders.
  • Get your fermented food fix with yogurt or sauerkraut, their probiotics may simultaneously promote gut and brain health.
  • Look to foods first to fill your nutrient needs and consult with your doctor before taking any vitamin or mineral supplement.

What other lifestyle factors can help improve my mood?

  • Fit in 150 minutes of physical activity over the course of a week including cardiovascular and muscle strengthening exercises and allow for time outside in nature.
  • Get an adequate amount of quality sleep amounting to 7 to 8 hours per night for adults and 9 to 10 hours per night for children
  • De-stress by connecting with family and friends, meditating, reading, or listening to music.

While optimal nutrition is important and can be a helpful addition to existing therapies, it is not a cure all or substitute for treatment prescribed by medical professionals.