Feeling Blue? Try Adding These 5 Mood-Boosting Foods To Your Diet

Oct 27, 2022| By JOI team

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Oct 27, 2022| By JOI team

Feeling Blue? Try Adding These 5 Mood-Boosting Foods To Your Diet

If you’re feeling blue, you may want to try switching up your diet. The foods we eat play a significant role in how we feel, which gives us another reason to prioritize a healthy, nutritious diet for both mental and physical health. Research suggests that specific nutrients and compounds in plant-based foods can improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. In fact, some foods have been shown to go as far as improving mood disorders. Now that’s something to be happy about!

How does food play a role in regulating your mood?

Certain foods are involved in the production and release of hormones and neurotransmitters responsible for regulating mood. Serotonin, for example, is a chemical messenger that regulates mood, sleep, sex drive, and appetite. Roughly 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is produced by the good bacteria in the gut, which is determined by the foods we eat. Therefore, consuming foods that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria is a natural and simple way to improve serotonin levels and, therefore, mood.

Other foods contain high levels of micronutrients - vitamins and minerals - that support mental health and sleep quality, and therefore they can indirectly affect your mood. Similarly, foods high in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, are beneficial for mental health and improving mood. In fact, diets high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds have been associated with a lower risk of depression and depressive symptoms. 

On the other hand, some foods can negatively impact mood. Refined sugars and highly processed foods can make a person feel irritated, anxious, and jittery, symptoms that negatively impact mood. This is due to the fact that these foods cause significant spikes in blood glucose (sugar) levels, a/k/a sugar high, followed by a drop in blood sugar, a/k/a sugar crash. This sudden rise and drop in blood glucose levels can promote feelings of anxiety and irritability

The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, in particular, has been associated with an increased recurrence of depression. What’s more? These foods also lack nutrition, so they shouldn’t be a part of your everyday diet. Although the occasional consumption of sweets and processed foods is totally OK, your diet should consist of minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods. Here are five mood-boosting foods you should add to your grocery list today. 

Dark chocolate (70% or higher)

If you feel immediately content after eating chocolate, there’s a (scientific) reason for that. Science has proved what many of us already experienced: chocolate does in fact make people happier. This is thanks to many plant compounds found in raw cacao, such as flavonol, caffeine, and theobromine, which are known as feel-good substances. Dark chocolate also stimulates the production of endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that create feelings of pleasure. One small study showed that eating a small amount of dark chocolate every day reduced salivary levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. If you’re still not convinced, a recent study found that daily consumption of 85% dark chocolate improved mood due to its prebiotic effects that benefit gut health. Get extra happy with this super decadent Vegan Chocolate Chunk Fudge recipe. 

Nuts and Seeds

Here at JOI, we know the joy we get from drinking nut milk. But guess what? Nuts actually do make you more joyful. This is due to tryptophan, an amino acid responsible for producing serotonin, which is found in almonds, cashews, walnuts, sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds.

Nuts are rich sources of zinc and selenium, and research suggests that having low blood levels of these minerals is linked to higher rates of depression. Similarly, nuts and seeds are sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain function and reduce inflammation.

In fact, a large study found an association between nut intake and reduced depression rates. It’s no wonder we feel so much JOI when milking nuts. Trying to incorporate more nuts and seeds into your diet? Make sure to try this Cashew Turmeric Granola made using sesame seeds, flax seeds, and cashews.  And don't forget to add some nut milk!

Blueberries

These tiny, purple-colored fruits are bound to make you berry happy! They are one of the richest sources of antioxidants in all foods and provide an array of health benefits. Their purple color comes from anthocyanins, a pigment that has been associated with lower depressive symptoms. Similar to cacao, blueberries contain flavonoids, plant compounds that help regulate mood and support brain health. In fact, the consumption of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables is linked to lower rates of depression and mood disorders. Start your day with this Easy Chia Pudding with Blueberry Compote which is rich in antioxidants, plant protein, and gut-friendly fiber! 

Beans 

B for beans, but also for the vitamins that make this legume a mood-supportive food! Beans and lentils are excellent sources of B vitamins, which increase levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and GABA, neurotransmitters that regulate mood. Low levels of B vitamins, especially vitamin B9 (folate), vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 have been associated with depression and mood disorders. Beans can also support brain function and mental health because they are good sources of the minerals zinc and selenium. If you’re feeling fancy and need new creative ways to use beans in recipes, try this Creamy Jackfruit Enchiladas made with black beans and other nutrient-dense ingredients such as jackfruit and sweet potatoes. 

Fermented Foods

Remember how we talked about serotonin being produced in your gut? Well, there are certain foods that can help improve serotonin levels by feeding the good bacteria in your gut: fermented foods. These include probiotic foods such as sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, miso, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and kombucha. The process of fermentation allows for probiotics (good bacteria) to thrive and multiply, and in turn, they produce beneficial compounds that support human health. What’s more? These gut-friendly foods are not only an excellent way to improve your mood, but they will also improve your digestion and support the healthy balance of good bacteria, which benefits your immune system and your mental health. And we’ve got the perfect recipe for you to get more fermented foods into your diet: this Creamy Homemade Vegan Yogurt, which is made using a probiotic mix containing live bacteria to support gut health.

Food For Thought

Although food can play a role in regulating mood, it’s important to note that mood can be influenced by many other factors such as high levels of stress, poor sleep quality, chemical imbalances, genetics, as well as nutrient deficiencies. When we’re in a bad mood or feeling stressed, it’s natural for us to engage in emotional eating, which is when we reach for indulgent, calorie-dense, and sugary foods to lift our spirits. Although we may experience an instant feeling of satisfaction, this is a short-lived sensation that does not translate into long-term well-being or a good mood. Instead, focus on including more nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds, which will not help boost your mood, but will also improve your overall health. 


Carolina Schneider, MS, RD (@CarolinaTheGreenRD) is a registered dietitian and writer specializing in plant-based nutrition. She is the founder of Hungry for Plants, a company dedicated to offering nutrition consulting services to health and wellness brands, primarily in the plant-based food and beverage space. Carolina believes in eating better, not less. Her favorite JOI recipe is the Cashew Coconut Curry.

1 comment

  • Why is there a picture of a fried egg in this otherwise interesting article? Joi, this cracked my mood.

    Linda

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