Find out how to turn around your mood when you’re feeling low with these easy, feel-good nutrition fixes
When you’re feeling down, your first instinct might be to reach for the biscuit tin. But rethinking your go-to comfort food could be a better bet – researchers think certain foods may actively boost your mood.1 We’ve worked out the best foods to choose:
Salmon, mackerel and sardines may not be your typical comfort food, but they’re a rich source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which scientists think can give you a natural lift.2
A 2007 study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh reported that people getting enough omega-3 fatty acids not only had more omega-3 in their brains but also more grey matter – and so a greater number of nerve cells – in the areas of the brain that control your mood, like the right hippocampus and amygdala. They were also less likely to experience mild or moderate symptoms of depression.3
In contrast, people with low levels of omega-3 in their brains had a more negative outlook on life. The researchers suggested that getting enough omega-3 essential fatty acids could produce structural improvements the brain.4
Don’t like fish? Nuts and seeds, flaxseed oil, soya and green leafy veg are all excellent plant-based sources of omega-3.5
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These nuts are an excellent source of the trace mineral selenium, important for a healthy brain – and so a happy mood, too.6
In a study in Biological Psychiatry, researchers reported a link between getting enough selenium and an improved mood – plus lower levels of anxiety. However, those taking in less of the mineral felt more anxious, tired and depressed.7
Two Brazil nuts a day provide all the selenium you need but you can also find it in brown rice, eggs, baked beans and lentils.8,9
Now here’s a feel-good food we’re all familiar with. But it’s not just the taste of chocolate that makes you feel better – eating it produces a calming response in the body, too.
A 2009 study published in Journal of Proteome Research reported that participants with anxiety who ate three squares of dark chocolate daily for two weeks actually produced fewer stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, in their urine than the control group.10
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These veggies are more than just a great stir-fry filler – they’re one of the few food sources of vitamin D2.11
Scientists have long noted a connection between greater vitamin D levels – most of which we get from sunlight – and a cheerier mood. In a 2013 review and meta-analysis, researchers at Ontario’s St Joseph’s Hospital examined 14 studies involving more than 30,000 people, and reported that not getting enough vitamin D significantly increases your risk of depression.12 Choose non-dairy milks and juices that are fortified with vitamin D.
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Porridge fans, rejoice – your morning meal really does set you up for the day. Oats are a rich source of oat beta-glucan, a type of soluble fibre contained mainly in the outer layers of the grain,13 which has been found to have positive effects on mood. A 2010 study in The FASEB Journal found that beta-glucan improved wellbeing and energy levels in stressed men and women.14
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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1. Science Daily. Omega-3 Boosts Grey Matter, May Explain Improved Moods. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070307080827.htm
2. The BDA. Omega-3. Available from: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/omega-3#Omega-3%20enriched%20foods
3. As Source 1
4. As Source 1
5. As Source 2
6. Medical News Today. Selenium: What it does and how much you need. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/287842.php
7. Thomson CD, et al. Brazil nuts: an effective way to improve selenium status. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18258628?dopt=Abstract
8. Benton D, Cook R. The impact of selenium supplementation on mood. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1873372
9. National Institutes of Health. Selenium. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium-HealthProfessional/
10. Martin FPJ, et al. Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects. Available from: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/pr900607v
11. RJH Keegan, et al. Photobiology of vitamin D in mushrooms and its bioavailability in humans. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3897585/
12. Anglin RE, et al. Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2337720
13. Heart UK. Fact sheet: The power of oat beta glucan. Available from: https://heartuk.org.uk/images/uploads/healthylivingpdfs/HUK_factsheet_F09_OatBetaGlucanF.pdf
14. Talbott S, Talbott J, Cox D. Beta-glucan supplement reduces upper respiratory tract infections and improves mood states in healthy stressed subjects. Available from: https://www.fasebj.org/doi/abs/10.1096/fasebj.24.1_supplement.922.11