What you put in your mouth matters greatly to mental health. Learn how to tweak your diet with these good-mood foods.
Few people have any doubt that the quality of your diet has a direct impact on physical health. But what you eat and how well your brain works are also closely connected. Nutritional psychiatry is a growing field that investigates how the foods you choose impact your mental well-being.
Research shows that older people who follow a healthier diet are nearly 40% less likely to have major depressive episodes than those who eat much worse. Nutritional deficiencies have been linked to depression in other research too. This is important information to know, since seniors appear to be more likely to suffer from this problem. Over time, depression can have significant impacts on your health and longevity.
Like any other body part, our brains are built out of the food we eat. If you consistently feel down in the dumps — to the point where it impacts your life — it might be worth considering what you put on your plate. Here are the good-mood foods that can help you feel brighter.
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Blueberries or strawberries? Apples or pears? No matter what your preference, eating plenty of fruit can likely help boost your mental health. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that a higher intake of fruit was associated with fewer symptoms of depression and a better sense of well-being. In contrast, frequently eating savory snacks was linked to higher rates of both anxiety and depression.
While scientists aren’t yet certain how eating extra servings of fruit can help with mood, it could have to do with the bounty of antioxidant compounds they contain which work to improve brain health.
Try this: Up your glee factor by eating at least 2 cups of fruit a day.
Nutrition experts are increasingly touting mushrooms for their various health benefits — including mental wellness. A recent study of more than 24,000 U.S. adults found that mushroom consumption was associated with a lower risk of depression. This was after factoring in major risk factors, including demographics, health, and medications.
The researchers found that mushrooms contain a compound called ergothioneine, which is an antioxidant that may protect against brain cell damage and reduce symptoms of depression.
We still don’t know how many mushrooms you need to eat to have a benefit and which types are most effective, but button (white) and shiitake mushrooms add low-calorie flavor to meals. Be generous with them in the kitchen to help lift your spirits.
Try this: Aim to eat 2 to 3 cups of feel-good mushrooms weekly
Recommended reading: 8 Delicious Ways to Eat Your Way to Better Brain Health
This cold-water fish is among the best dietary sources of vitamin B12, a nutrient that can be a mood-booster. Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver and plays a major role in cognitive functioning. Adults aged 50 and older with low vitamin B12 levels were at greater risk for depression, found one recent study.
Older people are more likely to develop vitamin B12 deficiencies because the nutrient is absorbed from food by stomach acid. As you age, stomach-acid production starts to decline. That’s why it is important to get tested for a vitamin B12 deficiency and eat enough foods that provide a good daily dose. A 3-ounce serving of trout supplies more than the daily requirement for vitamin B12.
As a bonus, it’s also a good source of omega-3 fat which could also help fend off depression. Salmon, tuna, sardines, and shellfish including mussels and oysters are other seafood options that are bursting with feel-good vitamin B12.
Try this: Help boost your outlook by eating at least 3 servings of seafood like trout weekly
Spanish for “little seeds of squash,” pepitas are a variety of green-hued pumpkin seeds that are an excellent source of magnesium. Several studies suggest that a greater dietary intake of magnesium can lower the chances of suffering from depression.
This mineral has an important impact on brain chemistry and hormonal balance, both of which play a role in keeping you from feeling like the world is shrinking in on you. Most Americans don’t nearly eat enough magnesium, which is also found in other seeds, beans, lentils, and whole grains. Pepitas are great sprinkled over yogurt, oatmeal, salads, or soups.
Try this: Feel better with about 2 tablespoons each day
If you want to look on the bright side more often, it’s worth buying yogurt at the grocery store. A investigation in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience found that people who had a more robust population of gut microbes tended to have fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. Yogurt and other fermented foods like kefir, miso, and sauerkraut, contain beneficial gut microbes like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium that are good for the brain.
It’s not exactly clear how that works, but these microorganisms may affect mood by sending signals to the brain. They also can help regulate mood hormones.
Try this: Enjoy a cup serving of yogurt daily and 3 to 5 servings of other fermented foods weekly.
Are you nuts for nuts? It may be giving your outlook a big assist. According to a study of more than 26,000 people published in the journal Nutrients, people who regularly ate nuts — particularly walnuts — were found to exhibit fewer depressive symptoms, less hopelessness, and greater energy than people who didn’t eat them. Walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids that help make them a crunchy food for a better mood.
Try this: Perk up with 1 ounce of walnuts a day.
This ancient beverage may hold the answer to fending off modern-day unhappiness. A report in Public Health Nutrition showed that those who sipped four or more cups of green tea each day were 51% less likely to feel down in the dumps.
There could be a couple of factors at play here. Tea, especially the green variety, provides antioxidants that improve brain functioning and lessen levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Plus, when you are drinking multiple cups of tea every day, there is less opportunity to guzzle sugary drinks, which are linked to a greater chance of developing depression or anxiety.
To reap the most mood-improving benefits, use a loose-leaf green tea and steep it in warm water for a few minutes. That helps it release its beneficial compounds.
Try this: Sip and smile with 2 to 4 cups daily
See our sources:
Healthy eating and depression: Journal of Affective Disorders
Older adults and depression: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Fruit consumption and mental health: British Journal of Nutrition
Mushroom intake and depression: Journal of Affective Disorders
Vitamin B12 and mood: British Journal of Nutrition
Gastrointestinal microbiota and mood: Nutritional Neuroscience
Green tea and depression risk: Public Health Nutrition
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