Change your diet, change your mood? Science says the answer is yes. Food isn't just fuel for the body; it feeds the mind and changes our moods. Food scientists are still exploring the big picture regarding food and mood, but it's clear that certain foods have a feel-good factor. Try these five mood-boosting snacks.
Bananas offer serious mood-lifting power, with their combination of vitamins B6, A, and C; fiber; tryptophan; potassium; phosphorous; iron; protein; and healthy carbohydrates.
When you eat a banana, you'll get a quick boost from the fructose as well as sustaining energy from the fiber, which helps prevent a blood sugar spike and ensuing drop in energy and mood. Carbohydrates aid in the absorption of tryptophan in the brain, and vitamin B6 helps convert the tryptophan into mood-lifting serotonin. Bananas are also a great source of potassium. Although potassium isn't directly related to mood, it's needed to regulate fluid levels and keep muscles working properly, which is important for feeling energized, a key factor for a sunny outlook. And finally, bananas also offer iron, which is crucial to producing energy and fighting fatigue.
Best of all, bananas are available year-round and are easy to tote -- just make sure to pack them on top!
Get even happier: Bananas are among the best when it comes to mixing and matching mood-boosting snacks. For a sunny smoothie, blend a banana with one handful of spinach, a tablespoon of ground flaxseed, and half a cup of apple juice. Spinach is one of the richest food sources of folate (vitamin B9) you can find, and flaxseed is full of omega-3s. When combined, these nutrients help maintain stable levels of brain serotonin and may help reduce your risk of depression.
For a sweet treat, try a frozen dark chocolate-covered banana, which you'll find in the freezer section of many natural foods stores. Or melt your own dark chocolate at home to dip banana slices in for a satisfying, mood-lifting fondue.
Walnuts contain a handful of components that contribute to a good mood, including omega-3s, vitamin B6, tryptophan, protein, and folate.
Higher blood levels of omega-3s have been linked with better mood and lower rates of depression, while lower blood levels of omega-3s have been associated with higher rates of depression and negative feelings. An animal study authored by Harvard Medical School Professor William Carlezon found that omega-3s and uridine (another substance found in walnuts, which plays an important role in helping metabolize carbohydrates) worked in the same way as standard antidepressant medications.
The standard dosage of omega-3 oils recommended by many experts is one gram (1,000 mg) per day. You'll get about the same amount, as well as a healthy dose of fiber and protein, in just half an ounce of walnuts. About two teaspoons of walnut oil will also do the trick, but you won't get the all the nutrition you would from the whole nut.
Get even happier: Crumble walnuts on top of a serving of organic yogurt for a crunchy and creamy treat with a double-dose of tryptophan.
3. Sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds are a super source of folate and magnesium, two substances that play a significant role in regulating and boosting mood. Just a handful of sunflower seeds delivers half the daily recommended amount of magnesium.
Magnesium, in addition to regulating mood, plays an essential role in hundreds of bodily functions. Magnesium deficiency is often responsible for feelings of fatigue, nervousness, and anxiety (since it triggers an increase in adrenaline), and it's been linked to various mood disorders. Sufficient, stable magnesium levels, on the other hand, help us achieve a calm and relaxed state, the perfect precursor to a good mood. It's so effective, in fact, that scientific studies have shown magnesium supplementation to be beneficial in treating major depression, suicidal tendencies, anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.
Folate (also known as vitamin B9 and as folic acid) is a B-complex vitamin that's intimately linked with nervous system function. Folate deficiency may result in feelings of irritability, depression, and brain fog, as well as insomnia. Being well rested and keeping a clear head are two of the primary factors in fueling a good mood, so snacking on sunflower seeds is a smart move in more ways than one.
Sunflower seeds are a good source of tryptophan and are often recommended by nutritional experts as a natural method of boosting serotonin levels. They're also rich in fiber, which helps maintain stable hormone levels -- one of the keys to keeping even-keeled.
Get even happier: Try this homemade trail mix to blast the blues: Sift sunflower seeds together with almonds, Brazil nuts, raisins, and dark chocolate chunks. Brazil nuts contain selenium, another natural mood booster.
4. Dark chocolate
A number of unscientific studies name chocolate the number-one craved food in America, so it makes sense that indulging in chocolate makes for a happy experience. And, as it turns out, there are some real reasons why that's so. For one, chocolate contains a number of substances that elevate mood, including fat, sugar, caffeine, phenylethylamine, flavonols, theobromine, and tryptophan.
Caffeine and theobromine are two naturally occurring stimulants found in chocolate. Along with sugar and fat, these substances provide a swift burst of energy and mood-lifting power. Chocolate also contains the mood-boosting compounds phenylethylamine, tyramine, tryptophan, and magnesium. While these substances are found in many other foods, even in higher concentrations, chocolate has an advantage because of its appeal on several sensory levels: it has a rich, mouth-pleasing texture; an intense taste; and an appealing aroma. For many of us, just the idea of indulging in chocolate is enough to elicit a positive emotional response.
In addition to these natural pick-me-ups, when you eat chocolate, a number of reactions occur, including the release of serotonin in the brain and mood-elevating endorphins in the body. This heady combination can result in a temporarily lifted mood and even a fleeting feeling of euphoria, which may explain why some people turn to chocolate when they're feeling blue.
Finally, cocoa is a natural source of antioxidant flavonoids, which increase blood flow (and thus oxygenation) in the brain, and which may contribute to better brain function. Not all chocolate is created equal, though. For the best health and happiness benefits, go for good-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa level of 70 percent or higher. The more cocoa it contains, the higher the levels of healthy compounds, so the darker the chocolate, the better it is for you.
Get even happier: Chocolate-covered almonds are a decadent snack full of fiber, vitamin E, potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper, tryptophan, and vitamin B2 (riboflavin). Almonds help lower the glycemic index of the chocolate, preventing a spike in blood sugar and its resultant low energy and mood. In fact, fiber, manganese, copper, and B2 are power players when it comes to energy production -- and steady energy is a must for a happy mood.
Eggs might not be the first food that comes to mind when you think of a snack, but a hard-boiled egg is easy to make and easy to transport. It's also a really good-for-you and good-for-your-mood snack. Full of high-quality protein and omega-3s (from hens eating a diet rich in omega-3s), eggs are also an excellent source of vitamin B12 (riboflavin) and a good source of vitamins B2, B5, and D. And one boiled egg contains more than 20 percent of the daily recommended amount of tryptophan.
While carbs are crucial for converting tryptophan into serotonin, protein is an important part of the process, too. A balanced diet that includes high-quality lean protein, like you find in eggs, and healthy carbs also helps stabilize blood sugar and prevent emotional highs and lows. And the Vitamin B12 in eggs plays a significant role in the production of energy and helps alleviate memory problems and symptoms of depression.
Get even happier: Add your egg to whole-grain toast for a satisfying snack that will give you a boost of long-lasting energy and fuel a feeling of well-being. Complex carbohydrates are an ideal pairing for protein-rich eggs, since they temporarily produce a calming effect by delivering a dose of tryptophan and triggering the production of serotonin. Carbohydrates also aid in the absorption of tryptophan in the brain.