No one feels that great after face-planting into a Costco-sized box of Oreos, but it turns out that the mood swings and anxiety we feel go a lot deeper than food guilt. For example, low blood sugar has been tied to depression, whereas healthy fats have been shown to help mitigate stress. So, while we love rolled ice cream just as much as the next person, there’s no doubt that there’s now all the more reason to replace processed junk with fresh produce and healthy snacking options. Here’s a look at exactly what to load up on—and be sure to start skipping these 15 Foods That Make Your Depression or Anxiety Worse!
1. Dark Chocolate
“High quality dark chocolate can give your mood a boost, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology,” says Brooke Alpert, RD and founder of B Nutritious. Dark chocolate stimulates the production of endorphins, which are mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain. It also contains the chemical serotonin, which acts as an antidepressant. Before you go ham on the sweet stuff, however, the recommended amount is one ounce per day. You also want to remember to always choose at least 70% cocoa and to pick up the options with the fewest ingredients (the less processed the cocoa beans are, the less nutrition is lost). Alpert recommends SweetRiot dark chocolate cacao nibs. (Psst! Dark chocolate is also on our list of 20 Foods That Supercharge Your Sex Drive.)
Popcorn is rich in the amino acid tryptophan which, according to Alpert, helps your body to produce serotonin, aka a neurotransmitter that increases your mood. “Quinn popcorn is an option I recommend for my clients,” she says. SkinnyPop Popcorn is another popular choice recommended by wellness experts like celebrity trainer Kira Stokes.
Bananas are great; sliced bananas with cottage cheese are even better. (This combo gets brownie points for also being an inexpensive and very filling snack!) “I love this combination because it will work to boost your mood with its combination of vitamins B6, A and C, fiber, tryptophan, potassium, phosphorous, iron, protein and healthy carbohydrates,” explains Lisa De Fazio, MS, RD and author of Big Book of Smoothies&Soups. “When you eat a sliced banana with cottage cheese, you get a boost from the fructose as well as long lasting energy from the fiber, which helps prevent a blood sugar spike and drop in mood. Carbohydrates help absorb tryptophan in the brain, and vitamin B6 helps convert the tryptophan into mood-boosting serotonin.” Now you can understand why there are 21 Amazing Things That Happen to Your Body When You Eat Bananas!
Nuts—particularly almonds, cashews, and walnuts—are fantastic. Make sure, however, to opt for raw unsalted ones for optimal nutrition. Also, make note of the fact that nuts are high in calories; so you’ll need to watch portion sizes. “Like popcorn, cashews and almonds boost serotonin levels that directly influence your mood,” explains Alpert. Walnuts, for their part, contain good mood nutrients including omega-3s, vitamin B6, tryptophan, protein, and folate. “Higher blood levels of omega-3s have been linked with better mood and lower rates of depression,” says De Fazio. If you find that controlling your portions of nuts is challenging, opt for a piece of whole grain bread with a nut spread from a brand like NuttZo. Organic and non-GMO, their spreads are made with seven nutrient-rich nuts and seeds. Alternatively, Blue Diamond makes 100 calorie packs of almonds.
Chickpeas are rich in vitamin B6, protein, and magnesium. According to De Fazio vitamin B6 prevents low energy and anxiety, and protein supports neurotransmitter function in the brain which helps produce serotonin and dopamine. This is fab news since serotonin and dopamine are two natural hormones your body needs to feel happy! De Fazio recommends hummus and raw veggies, but chickpeas can be enjoyed in a myriad of ways. For something quick and on-the-go you can opt for Chickpeatos or Pure Genius, a new line of chickpea-based brownies and blondies that are delicious. And for more ideas, don’t miss these 20 Amazing, Surprising Ways to Eat Chickpeas