You probably are already aware that what you eat can affect your health. But did you know that when and what you eat can definitely affect your mood? Add these special mood-boosters into your day and combine them with daily exercise (another proven mood-lifting lifestyle habit) and you have the key to becoming a healthier and happier person. Here are 5 happiness foods for you to consider adding into your day:
- Eat salmon. Salmon and other fatty fish that swim in the deep blue sea are chock full of the “good fat” known as omega-3. Scientists have found that one type of long chain fatty acid in particular, called DHA, is highly concentrated in the brain and required for healthy brain function. In fact, research has shown that omega-3 fat has a mood boosting effect—people with higher blood levels have more serotonin and dopamine — two key neurotransmitters that keep our moods happy and balanced. Salmon, especially wild salmon, is exceptionally high in vitamin D, another nutrient believed to affect mood. In fact, vitamin D has been shown to help people with a type of depression common in the long dark days of winter, called “seasonal affective disorder” or SAD.
- Eat spinach. Spinach and other dark leafy greens are brimming with plant antioxidant chemicals. These phytochemicals protect the delicate brain cell membranes from free radical damage which can contribute to fatigue and a dampened mood. Spinach is also rich in the B vitamin folic acid. Research has shown that many depressed people have low folic acid levels in their blood. Other food sources of folic acid include legumes and asparagus.
- Eat beans. Beans are loaded with iron. Iron is a mineral that greatly affects mood as it transports oxygen in the blood. Not enough oxygen transported to the tissues translates into lethargy, fatigue and anxiety. Therefore, it is important to ensure that you are eating enough iron in your diet. Other good sources of iron include lean red meat, raisins and iron-fortified cereals.
- Eat whole grains. Carbs are the classic “feel good” foods because they enable tryptophan to cross into the brain where it forms the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Serotonin is our brain’s natural antidepressant—it has a calming, sedative-like mood enhancing effect. To increase your level of serotonin, be particular with what type of carb you eat. Don’t go for the simple carbs because unlike the complex, whole grain carbs (which provide lasting energy), simple carbs such as sugary soda or cookies cause a transient blood sugar surge followed by a mood-wrecking crash.
- Choose protein with a high tryptophan count. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid—meaning the body can’t manufacture it on its own so you have to eat it. Tryptophan is the building block of serotonin, therefore it is imperative that you consume enough in your diet. So how much is enough? Aim for about 300 mg a day from protein. Here are some sample proteins and their respective tryptophan content:
- Chicken or turkey breast, (4 oz.): 390 mg
- Yellowfin tuna (4 oz.): 380 mg
- Soybeans, cooked (1 cup): 370 mg
- Halibut, (4 oz.): 340 mg
When it comes to your mood, you truly are what you eat. Combining a nutritious diet with daily exercise is the ultimate happiness prescription. A Fitness Together trainer can develop a program designed to help you stay happy and fit. You’ll also receive nutritional counseling through the Nutrition Together program, which will complement your workouts.