We are what we eat. While our thoughts, actions, and beliefs play a huge role in how we feel, there is a growing body of research that suggests the foods we eat also have a drastic impact on our moods.
So if you’re feeling sluggish or maybe even a little bummed out these days, I invite you to look to your diet for some mood-boosting opportunities.
And even if you’re already nourishing your body with healthy foods and you’re feeling good most of the time, it’s still possible to eat yourself even happier when you add the following seven “happy foods” to your diet:
1. Wild-caught salmon
Wild-caught salmon (and other fatty fishes like it) might be the most perfect mood-boosting food ever created. According to Tyler G. Graham and Drew Ramsey, authors of The Happiness Diet, it contains 11 of the most important vitamins and minerals for making us happy.
The most of important of these is salmon’s large volume of omega-3s, which scientific studies have shown to have anti-depressive effects in addition to many other amazing benefits, including increasing brain health and lowering the risk of heart disease.
Wild-caught salmon also contains healthy amounts of vitamin B12. This vitamin is essential for building new brain cells, and low levels of it can lead to depression, restlessness, and aggressive behavior.
Finally, wild-caught salmon contains magnesium. Magnesium has also been used to treat depression and has the ability to ease our minds, nerves, and muscles.
Who doesn’t like watermelon? That juicy, sweet bite of watermelon not only makes your taste buds happy, but it has also been proven to increase overall levels of happiness and well-being.
The ingredient that makes watermelon red, lycopene, is the same one responsible for making us happier. It also prevents the aging of skin and keeps it looking younger. What’s more, it’s a relatively low-calorie treat that will keep your waist slim while you go about your happy day.
On a less vain note, it’s been shown to prevent the buildup of interleukin-6, which is associated with depression. Not only that, studies have shown its ability to protect against various cancers and to help with infertility.
You might be surprised to find a mouth-burning food like jalapeño listed as a happy food. But its “spicy” qualities are exactly what makes the jalapeño such a mood-enhancing food.
Capsaicin is what makes jalapeños so spicy. When we ingest capsaicin, our bodies actually release endorphins, which give us a feeling of euphoria. In fact, this is similar to the response our bodies have to both sex and exercise.
Eating jalapeños isn’t just a hedonistic activity; capsaicin has also been shown to have other practical health benefits, including helping to prevent cancer and protecting the brain during liver failure.
4. Butternut squash
The key ingredient in butternut squash that makes us happy is betain, which our brains use to form the natural antidepressant SAM-e. Its high-antioxidant content also helps promote longevity. Throw in a handful the next time you make a kale salad to add a little pep to your day.
I’ve also found that butternut squash pasta is a great replacement for the “real thing,” although this one will actually make you feel great afterward instead of putting you in a “carb coma.”
While I wouldn’t recommend eating too much before a hot date, garlic is another food nature designed to make you smile. This is primarily because it’s packed with the mineral chromium, which Psychology Today has called “natural Prozac” due to its ability to regulate serotonin levels. Serotonin has been proven to reduce pain and produce a calm state.
In fact, there have even been studies that showcase the ability of chromium to reduce depression. Of course, if garlic isn’t quite your thing, great substitutes for getting a chromium boost include onions, scallions, shallots, and leeks.
The high vitamin C and iron content of grapefruits make them one of the best mood-boosting foods around. Both of these have been found to increase energy as well as brain function.
They narrowly edge out oranges (which also contain a ton of vitamin C) due to the fact they have less sugar. When you consume high amounts of sugar, especially earlier in the day, it will most likely lead to the dreaded “sugar crash” later on, which will not leave you smiling.
Bugs Bunny’s favorite vegetable is also scientifically proven to make us happier. Let’s be honest, what vegetable is more fun to eat than carrots? The way they crackle and crunch when you bite into them is simply irresistible. Carrots also have many great mood-boosting properties, including high amounts of vitamin C.
Plus, just one carrot contains 500 percent of the recommended daily amount of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that protects the brain from damage and also helps keep our skin healthy.
I recommend you write these foods on your grocery list — adding them to your diet will truly help you eat yourself happy!
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