Our life, aptly put, can be described as a roller coaster of emotions. Some days we’re perfectly fine, chipper as can be—then our favorite TV character gets mercilessly killed off without warning (cough, GoT) and the world becomes a dreary place. Or on the flip side, perhaps we wake up on the wrong side of the bed but a tiny gesture—say, a cup of iced coffee with a heart drawn by our name (thanks, smiley barista)—suddenly makes us feel on top of the world. Our mood fluctuates easily throughout the day, which is why we found it interesting to discover that there are certain scientifically proven ways to level it out. When you’re in a funk or feeling gloomy, these foods will lift you up; consider them your very own happy pills, straight from Mother Nature.
Keep scrolling to see seven foods that are scientifically proven to make you happier.
We’ve already discussed all the ways coffee affects your skin, but did you know your morning cup of java can be a serious mood booster, too? In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers found that women who drank two to three cups of caffeinated coffee a day were 15% less likely to develop depression over the 10-year period of the study, compared to women who drank one cup or less a day. It gets better: Women who drank four or more cups of coffee a day had a 20% lower risk. Does this mean you should start guzzling your coffee in bulk? Not necessarily (there are side effects, after all), but it’s encouraging to know your addiction has an upside, yes?
Salmon has made it on pretty much every health food list we’ve ever put together, and for good reason. It’s chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to brain health. Those lacking omega-3s in their diet often suffer from fatigue, mood swings, and memory decline, which is why you want to make sure you’re adding it to your diet at least twice a week. Studies have shown a link between consuming fish oil with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and decreased depression. Not a fish fan? Other foods with high omega-3 content include chia seeds and spinach.
Raise your hand if you love chocolate. Now jump up and down because you have reason to rejoice: Science says it makes you happier (not that we’re all that surprised). According to a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, individuals who drank a polyphenol-rich chocolate drink once a day (which is equivalent to about 1 1/2 ounces of dark chocolate) reported feeling calmer and more content than those who didn’t. Another study claimed that chemicals in chocolate, berries, and teas can enhance your mood in a similar way to valproic acid, an ingredient found in many mood-stabilizing drugs. And with that, we’ll take a second piece of that chocolate bar.
Oysters have a reputation for being aphrodisiacs—and no one wants to get it on when they’re in the dumps, right? The mollusks are the number one source of zinc, a mineral that’s critical to a healthy immune system and your mood. Studies have found that zinc can improve the response of antidepressants, while lack of it can lead to a weakened immune system, lack of appetite, and depression. Other foods high in zinc include Alaskan king crab, beef, lamb, wheat germ, spinach, and pumpkin seeds.
Your mom may have told you to load up on green veggies growing up, and now you have another reason to heed her advice: leafy greens, like spinach, kale, and collard greens, can all help boost your mood. Kale and collard greens are high in calcium, which can help regulate PMS-related mood swings, while spinach is an amazing source of folate. What is folate, you ask? Also known as B9, it’s a vitamin that helps keep your body’s cells healthy and also create new cells; serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter, relies on these cells to pass messages in the brain. Some studies have shown that folate supplements may help with depression.
Almonds and Other Nuts
Another key ingredient vital to your mood health is magnesium, a mineral important in the development of serotonin (along with a slew of other bodily functions). It’s a common homeopathic solution for balancing your mood, and almonds, cashews, and peanuts are full of it. Another nut to add to your diet is the walnut—it’s full of alpha-linolenic acid, which some studies have linked to lower depression rates among women.
Next time you’re feeling stressed out and bummed, try eating a cup of yogurt. Studies have linked the probiotics found in yogurt and other cultured dairy products, like kefir, to lower stress levels and higher contentedness. Yogurt is also high in calcium, low levels of which may contribute to your PMS-related mood swings.
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Parletta N, Zarnowiecki D, Cho J, et al. A Mediterranean-style dietary intervention supplemented with fish oil improves diet quality and mental health in people with depression: A randomized controlled trial (HELFIMED). Nutr Neurosci. 2019;22(7):474‐487. doi:10.1080/1028415X.2017.1411320
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Petrilli MA, Kranz TM, Kleinhaus K, et al. The emerging role for zinc in depression and psychosis. Front Pharmacol. 2017;8:414. doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00414
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Tillisch K, Labus J, Kilpatrick L, et al. Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity. Gastroenterology. 2013;144(7):1394‐1401.e14014. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2013.02.043