Good Mood Foods to Help Fight Depression, Stress, and More

Basket of fresh organic fruits in the gardenStress, depression, and anxiety are complex experiences caused by a variety of factors, including lifestyle, brain chemistry, a history of trauma, and health. Research increasingly points to the role nutrition plays in sound emotional health. While eating a bowl of soy beans and loading up on eggs won’t cure depression, it can certainly help. By pairing the right diet with healthy therapy and—if necessary—medication, you can maximize your chances of quickly feeling better.

Folic Acid

Vitamin B9, also known as folic acid, is probably best known as the nutrient every pregnant woman should eat to prevent neural tube defects. Research also shows that folic acid may help boost mood. One study, for example, found that people with depression tended to be deficient in folic acid. Beans and lentils are excellent sources of folic acid, and you can also get your daily dose of this important nutrient through oatmeal and cereals fortified with folate.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids can help improve heart health. Research is still mixed on the effects these fatty acids have on mood, but several studies have shown an improvement in depressive symptoms among people who get high doses of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Even when studies haven’t verified the mood-boosting effects of these fatty acids, they haven’t shown any negative consequences. Fish, nuts, legumes, avocados, flax seed oil, and linseed oil are each high in these important nutrients.

Tryptophan

You might have heard that tryptophan can cause you to doze off after a big Thanksgiving dinner, but it can also help ease anxiety and depression. The body converts tryptophan into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and prevent depression. Milk, cheese, eggs, soybeans, tofu, and turkey are all high in tryptophan.

Fruit

There are dozens of reasons to eat more fruit. Fruit’s natural sugars are better for you than the stuff you get from packaged foods, and the relatively low calorie content of most fruits can help you regulate your weight and stave off food cravings. Many fruits can also help boost your mood by boosting serotonin levels. Kiwi, sour cherries, bananas, plantains, plums, pineapples, and tomatoes are each high in serotonin.

High-Fiber Foods

Fiber doesn’t just help you avoid gastrointestinal problems. Some studies have also found that it can boost your mood. High-fiber foods include avocados, whole wheat bread, barley, beans, lentils, almonds, raspberries, pears, oatmeal, and bran muffins.

Good mood foods to bust depression and stress

Click to Enlarge Good Mood Foods Infographic by GoodTherapy.org

Foods to Avoid

It can be challenging to eat a healthy diet, and an occasional “cheat” may even boost your mood if you choose something healthy, such as dark chocolate. Some foods can only drag you down, though. These include:

  • Alcohol, which is correlated with increased depression and sleepiness.
  • Caffeine, which can make you feel jittery and anxious, then lead to sleepiness and depression.
  • Processed sugars, which can give a temporary energy boost that quickly yields to a depressive crash.
  • Foods containing gluten, especially for those who have celiac disease. Many foods high in folic acid are also high in gluten. Gluten hasn’t been shown to be harmful to most people, but if you have celiac disease, the benefits of gluten-containing foods are outweighed by the risks.

References:

  1. 15 mood-boosting foods. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/food-and-mood-best-foods-make-you-feel-better
  2. Hainer, R. (2010, June 11). Supplements for depression: What works, what doesn’t. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/06/11/supplements.for.depression/
  3. High-fiber foods. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/high-fiber-foods/art-20050948
  4. Jefferson, J. W. (2007). Folate for depression. Psychopharm Review, 42(10), 75-81. doi: 10.1097/01.IDT.0000290219.07082.4c
  5. Nelson, S. (2014, May 19). Study says non-celiac gluten sensitivity may not be real. Retrieved from http://wqad.com/2014/05/19/study-says-non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity-may-not-be-real
  6. New research reveals that fibre can improve mood. (2002, February 20). Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-02/cu-nrr022002.php
  7. Treating depression with Omega-3: Encouraging results from largest clinical study. (2010, June 30). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100621111238.htm

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Ellen Truschel, LMFT, Certified Imago Therapist, therapist in Fresno, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • stanley

    stanley

    March 20th, 2015 at 7:39 AM

    It is critical that we begin to eat more like the way that we want to feel. That means that if we want to fee land be healthy then it is obvious that we have to start adding more foods like these to our diets and do more to reduce the number of processed calories that are part of our daily intake. I hear people all around me who talk about wanting to do better etc but then they eat so poorly and rarely exercise. If we are unwilling to give up some of the junk then how is our health ever going to see any type of improvement?

  • Vincent

    Vincent

    March 20th, 2015 at 10:08 AM

    Let’s be honest and say that the last thing that I am going to go for when I am down or depressed is a handful of grapes! I am going for good old (bad) comfort food and that makes me feel a little better.
    Okay so it is not that this will heal all my wounds but it sure does usually make me feel a little better in the moment.

  • Dolly

    Dolly

    March 20th, 2015 at 12:05 PM

    Mind body and spirit, if you want them all to be happy then you have to nourish them all in many ways. One big way that you can do this is by taking care of yourself, being mindful of the food that you eat and doing what you can to stay away from the ingredients that are bad news for our health. It might sound simple, but there is science behind it and I trust that the things that make me feel best are the things that I know are actually good for me, right now and down the line.

  • Krystal E.

    Krystal E.

    March 20th, 2015 at 1:13 PM

    OMG Finally people are waking up!!! Yes, food is the way to go about curing depression first. Food is the fuel for the human body and whatever you put in is what you will get out in a sense… I followed the how to fight depression guide on waystobeatdepression.com, I ended up curing my depression using a variety of things like powerful diet with lots of nutrients, also cognitive behavioral therapy helped out a LOT… the only problem now is that my friends won’t leave me alone because of how positive and outgoing I am haha :)

  • Laurie G., Ph.D.

    Laurie G., Ph.D.

    March 20th, 2015 at 8:09 PM

    Good article, in essence. I truly appreciate the movement toward more natural, drug-free treatments.

    However, I’ve learned some caveats in recent years. First, apparently folic acid isn’t useful or even safe when taken as a supplement. Folic acid is actually the end product of folica. Folica is the vitamin itself, which is abundant in many foods. Too often, the terms are used interchangeably. For more info. on the hazards of folic acid: drfuhrman.com/library/folic_acid_dangers_and_prenatal_vitamins.aspx or thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/folic-acid-making-us-sick/.

    The supplement B Supreme includes folate in reportedly safer forms, more akin to the folate found naturally in many foods. Or you might prefer a B supplement with no folate or folic acid (tricky to find). B vitamins are best taken together to reduce the risk of imbalances.

    Also: Dairy products are frequent allergens and may actually cause depression or anxiety in some individuals (among other potential problems).

    Overall, whatever foods you choose, organically-grown tends to be safer. GMO plants and products from commercially-raised animals are among the least safe for overall health. Good overall health supports emotional balance as well.

    Tryptophan is currently available as a supplement. Ideally this supplement would be used (if at all) with the guidance of a careful health practitioner, The doses found in most foods might not be enough for some individuals with anxiety, depression or insomnia.

  • selena

    selena

    March 21st, 2015 at 5:53 AM

    Combining healthy food with exercise? The key to great health!

  • sharon

    sharon

    March 21st, 2015 at 8:44 AM

    Greetings!

    The information is timely.
    Since, I am now aware that eating those kinds of foods would help in the reduction of depressive moods, I will change my eating habits.

  • Enrique S.

    Enrique S.

    March 21st, 2015 at 11:47 AM

    I actually have to agree with this article.
    I suffered terrible anxiety and depression and cleaning up my diet really helped me. I eat a lot of fish these days and take vitamins. There’s a blog post I recommend reading if you’re suffering from depression. walone.ga/coping-with-depression/

  • Caty

    Caty

    March 22nd, 2015 at 5:05 AM

    I hope that the time has finally come when we collectively can see that there are things that are found in nature that can be just as beneficial to us from a health standpoint as something from a medication bottle. There are so many ways that we can improve our health overall if we would simply be more mindful of the food that we eat and the amount of exercise that we do in our daily lives.

  • lou

    lou

    March 23rd, 2015 at 10:34 AM

    There is a cure out there in nature for pretty much any disease that plagues us, but the key is knowing where to find all of those things that are at the core good for us and put away that which is not.
    After so much time with all of the junk food and acquiring a taste for that it can be hard to go back to all natural from the earth ingredients.
    But I think that if we talk about how important that is and get the conversation really started we can begin to change our own trajectory.

  • GiGi

    GiGi

    March 24th, 2015 at 3:41 AM

    Good food and good mood=good health.. It all goes hand in hand

  • johnny

    johnny

    March 26th, 2015 at 11:58 AM

    I sure do wish that we could all talk this talk and walk this walk. It is so easy to say that we only want to eat clean and healthy but there are too many who then make the decision to go through a drive through at night for dinner.
    Look, we might have to give up a few of the easier things in life and instead go a little more the things that are a little smarter.

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