After a day when everything from your hair to your commute to your meeting seems to have gone wrong, it wouldn’t be surprising if you trashed your plans to make a fresh veggie stir-fry and instead grabbed the carton of fudge ripple and dove right in. Certain foods give us just what we’re looking for, whether that’s comfort, energy for a workout, or stress relief. And now scientists have found that some foods may give a greater feel-better boost than others.
Researchers recently presented new evidence at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society that certain foods, including chocolate, berries, and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, seem to boost mood. Molecules in the foods have a striking chemical similarity to valproic acid, a widely used prescription mood-stabilizing drug, according to ScienceDaily.
While the foods' effects weren't as strong as antidepressants, researchers are now trying to identify other chemicals that may moderate mood swings, help maintain cognitive health, improve mental alertness, and delay the onset of memory loss.
"These findings make sense since many drugs come from natural sources and, if you consider natural healers in history, they used plants for diseases and behaviors,” says Jae Berman, R.D., of Bay Club San Francisco.
Furthermore, we all experience food's effect on mood whenever we go too long without eating or do not eat a balanced meal or snack, Berman says. If it’s been hours since you had lunch, you may find that you’re unable to multitask because your body is focused on survival, she says.
It doesn’t help that processed foods—which dominate most American diets—also stress the body out. When you eat a simple sugar, your blood glucose levels increase quickly, but that high only leads to a crash a short while later—and a less-than-perky mood.
Instead of focusing on eating specific mood-boosting foods, Berman recommends eating every three to four hours and pairing carbs with protein to stabilize your blood sugars and moods. A few of her favorite meals and snacks include quinoa, veggies, and chicken; a turkey and veggie sandwich on whole-wheat bread; poached eggs on whole-wheat toast with olive tapenade; Greek yogurt mixed with cinnamon, roasted almonds, flax seed, and oats; and kale and eggs. "These contain protein, fiber, and carbs, so you feel truly satisfied for three to four hours after eating them," she says. And keep your outlook on the bright side, too.
Tell us, have you ever noticed that junk food gives you a junk mood? What healthy foods have you smiling?