One works even better than antidepressants

You can eat your way to a better mood! Certain foods and beverages have been proven to provide the raw materials that you need to feel sharper, more relaxed and just plain happier. Best choices…



  • Chocolate can make you feel good—to such an extent that 52% of women would choose chocolate over sex, according to one survey.
  • Chocolate contains chemical compounds known as polyphenols, which interact with neurotransmitters in the brain and reduce anxiety. An Australian study found that men and women who consumed the most chocolate polyphenols (in the form of a beverage) felt calmer and more content than those who consumed a placebo drink.
  • Chocolate also boosts serotonin, the same neurotransmitter affected by antidepressant medications. It triggers the release of dopamine and stimulates the “pleasure” parts of the brain.
  • Then there’s the sensual side of chocolate—the intensity of the flavor and the melting sensation as it dissolves in your mouth. The satisfaction that people get from chocolate could be as helpful for happiness as its chemical composition. 
  • Recommended amount: Aim for one ounce of dark chocolate a day. Most studies used dark chocolate with 70% cacao or more.


  • Fish has been called “brain food” because our brains have a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids—and so does fish. These fatty acids have been linked to memory and other cognitive functions. In countries where people eat a lot of fish, depression occurs less often than in countries (such as the US) where people eat less.
  • The omega-3s in fish accumulate in the brain and increase “membrane fluidity,” the ability of brain-cell membranes to absorb nutrients and transmit chemical signals.
  • A study in Archives of General Psychiatry looked at patients diagnosed with depression who hadn’t responded well to antidepressants. Those who were given 1,000 mg of EPA (a type of omega-3 fatty acid) daily for three months had significant improvements, including less anxiety and better sleep.
  • Recommended amount: Try to have at least two or three fish meals a week. Cold-water fish—such as sardines, mackerel and salmon—have the highest levels of omega-3s. Or choose a supplement with 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA (another omega-3 fatty acid) in total.


  • Dark green vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are loaded with folate, a B-complex vitamin that plays a key role in regulating mood. A Harvard study found that up to 38% of adults with depression had low or borderline levels of folate. Boosting the folate levels of depressed patients improved their mood.
  • Dark green vegetables are particularly good, but all vegetables and fruits boost mood. Researchers asked 281 people to note their moods on different days. On the days when the participants consumed the most vegetables and fruits, they reported feeling happier and more energetic. Folate certainly plays a role, but self-satisfaction may have something to do with it as well. People feel good when they eat right and take care of themselves.
  • Recommended amount: The minimum you should have is five servings of vegetables and fruits a day. Bonus: Middle-aged men who had 10 servings a day showed reduced blood pressure.


  • Beans are rich in tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is used by the body to produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that affects feelings of calmness and relaxation.
  • Beans also are loaded with folate. Folate, as mentioned in the veggies section, plays a key role in regulating mood.
  • In addition, beans contain manganese, a trace element that helps prevent mood swings due to low blood sugar.
  • Recommended amount: For people not used to eating beans, start with one-quarter cup five days a week. Build up to one-half cup daily. This progression will help prevent gastrointestinal symptoms such as flatulence.


  • Nuts are high in magnesium, a trace mineral involved in more than 300 processes in the body. People who don’t get enough magnesium feel irritable, fatigued and susceptible to stress.
  • The elderly are more likely than young adults to be low in magnesium—because they don’t eat enough magnesium-rich foods and/or because they tend to excrete more magnesium in their urine.
  • Also, many health problems can accelerate the depletion of magnesium from the body. Examples: Gastrointestinal disorders (or bariatric surgery), kidney disease and sometimes diabetes.
  • Recommended amount: Aim for one ounce of nuts a day. Good choices include almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts and peanuts (the latter is technically a legume). If you don’t like nuts, other high-magnesium foods include spinach, pumpkin seeds, fish, beans, whole grains and dairy.


  • The caffeine in coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages is a very beneficial compound. One study found that people with mild cognitive impairment were less likely to develop full-fledged Alzheimer’s disease when they had the caffeine equivalent of about three cups of coffee a day.
  • Caffeine can temporarily improve your memory and performance on tests. It enhances coordination and other parameters of physical performance. When you feel energized, you feel happier. Also, people who feel good from caffeine may be more likely to engage in other happiness-promoting behaviors, such as seeing friends and exercising.
  • Recommended amount: The challenge is finding the “sweet spot”—just enough caffeine to boost mood but not so much that you get the shakes or start feeling anxious. For those who aren’t overly sensitive to caffeine, one to three daily cups of coffee or tea are about right.


Some people turn to food or drink for comfort when they’re feeling down. Here’s what not to eat or drink when you’ve got the blues….
  • Alcohol: Alcohol is a depressant of the central nervous system. When you initially consume alcohol, it produces a euphoric effect and you become more animated and less inhibited. But as you continue drinking and more alcohol crosses the blood-brain barrier, the depressant effect predominates.
  • Baked goods: When you eat high-sugar, high-fat carbs such as cookies, pastries and donuts, you tend to want more of them. The food gives you a temporary “good feeling,” but the excess food intake that typically results causes drowsiness and often self-loathing.
Source: Tonia Reinhard, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. She is the program director for the Coordinated Program in Dietetics, course director of clinical nutrition at Wayne State University School of Medicine and past president of the Michigan Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is author of Superfoods: The Healthiest Foods on the Planet and SuperJuicing: More Than 100 Nutritious Vegetable & Fruit Recipes (both from Firefly).   
* Publication: Bottom Line Personal
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