A different kind of comfort food
Plenty of little things can give you a case of the blues, and some are simply beyond your control. What is within your control? Making some smart moves to improve your physical and mental state when the road gets bumpy. Even though you can't open your kitchen cabinet door and have a good mood jump out at you, a few items on those shelves can gently help you feel more upbeat.
The reasons for eating omega-3 rich fish keep piling up: preventing cancer, fighting acne, and now improving your state of mind. Researchers now know that omega-3s can improve mood problems by influencing the brain's "happy-making" neurotransmitters and by lessening inflammation that can damage brain cells. A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that when middle-aged women with symptoms of mild psychological distress took 1.5 grams of omega-3s (about the amount in a 3-ounce can of salmon) daily for eight weeks, their symptoms improved significantly. If you like sardines, you can get even more mood-boosting omega-3s: A 3-ounce can of sardines packed in sardine oil contains 3.3 grams. Unfortunately, you can't expect one can of fish to blast you into a sunnier state of mind. Plan on eating a serving of canned fish, especially sardines and herring, several times a week. If you're not a fish eater, take a daily fish oil supplement instead.
Omega-3s aren't just found in fish. Add mood-boosting benefits to any meal by sprinkling it with flaxseed, one of the plant-based sources of omega-3s. It makes a popular topping for smoothies, cereal, and yogurt. Since these superseeds have hard shells, grind them in a blender or coffee grinder first so the nutrients can be absorbed into your system. Check out more ways to eat more omega-3 foods besides fish.
Dried crimini mushrooms
These veggies are a great pantry source of vitamin B6, also called pyridoxine, which helps make the hormone serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression. But your mood might not be the only thing affected by a vitamin B6 deficiency. Other symptoms include fatigue and malaise. As many as 50 percent of women don't get enough; some 15 percent get less than 25 percent of their B6 needs. Getting even 1 milligram less of this vital nutrient can short-circuit your nervous system. What's more, vitamin B6 deficiencies are linked to depression. Women under 50 need 1.2 milligrams a day; women over 50 need 1.5 milligrams. Men under 50 need 1.3 milligrams; over 50, 1.7 milligrams.
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Folic acid, called folate when it occurs naturally in food, is the synthetic form of this B vitamin found in supplements and added to fortified foods. And nearly 40 percent of people diagnosed with depression have folic acid deficiencies. When they start eating foods rich in folic acid, guess what? They begin to feel happier. Adults need 400 micrograms a day (women contemplating pregnancy and pregnant women need 600 micrograms). One of the best sources of folate sitting in your pantry: cooked lentils, with 358 micrograms per 1 cup. Here are other foods high in folic acid and folate.
Researchers have found that zinc plays a major role in our brain and body's response to stress. A deficiency in this vital mineral can lead to depression, learning and memory impairments, and aggression. Italian researchers discovered that blood levels of zinc are consistently lower in people with depression. One ounce of dry roasted cashews contains 1.6 mg of your daily intake (8 mg for women, 11 mg for men), and they're easy to add to meals or snack on throughout the day.
If you're feeling down, make whole-grain cereals your breakfast of choice; they have double the mood-boosting power. Some are fortified with a daily supply of folic acids in one serving. (Read labels carefully to be sure.) Plus, a serving of fortified breakfast cereals can give you 25 percent of your daily zinc requirement. These cereal hacks can make your breakfast even healthier.
Chickpeas are a good source of magnesium, and getting enough magnesium impacts your serotonin levels to boost your mood. A deficiency of this mineral has been associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety, and almost half of the US population isn't getting their fill. Another reason to eat more chickpeas: They boost your sex drive.
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Go ahead—reach for a few pieces of extra-dark chocolate the next time you feel a little blue. This delicacy interacts with the brain's chemical messengers responsible for regulating mood and energy. French scientists recently learned more about its mood-lifting effects: When they gave rats some chocolate extract, the rats passed depression tests with flying colors. (Wonder how scientists figure out whether or not rats are depressed? It's simple. They put the rodents into a cylinder filled with water. Happy rats try to escape. Unhappy rats don't. All are rescued.)