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10 Nutrients Scientifically Proven to Make You Feel Awesome

You are what you eat — and sometimes, you’re really grumpy. If you’re in need of happiness boost, consider eating foods rich in the vitamins and minerals that fight depression and regulate mood. We’ve rounded up 10 of them here.
10 Nutrients Scientifically Proven to Make You Feel Awesome

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Want some pep in your step? Perhaps a dash of good cheer? (Who doesn’t, right?). Look no further than the grocery store’s shelves. Foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids are not only super healthy, but can also increase happiness, lessen symptoms of depression, and quell anxiety [1] [2].

10 Nutrients Scientifically Proven to Make You Feel Awesome

How can foods improve our moods? It all comes down to the brain. A healthy cognitive system is essential to regulating mood, and certain nutrients have a profound impact on maintaining normal brain function [3]. To date, researchers have studied the association between foods and the brain and identified nine nutrients that can combat depression and boost our mood: calcium, chromium, folate, iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and zinc [4] [5]. Try one of these foods for a mid-day pick-me-up, to promote long-term happiness, or to ward off the nagging worry that you forgot to lock the front door (You did remember, right?).

 A bit about the units used below: Mg (milligram) is the typical unit of measurement for nutrients and 1,000 mg equals 1 gram. Mcg is the abbreviation of  microgram and 1,000 mcg equals 1 mg. 

1. Calcium


The most abundant mineral in the body, calcium plays an important role in maintaining strong bones and healthy blood vessels, and in reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Low levels of calcium may play a role in PMS-related depression in particular [6]. (Sorry guys, we couldn’t find data on whether calcium can also regulate male fluctuations in mood). Calcium deficiency affects more women than men, so women should take special care to meet the daily requirements [7].

How eating it helps: Found in a variety of sources (non-dairy included), calcium is often paired with vitamin D to help regulate mood fluctuations attributed to PMS [6]. Since estrogen plays a large role in calcium production, calcium consumption may improve PMS-related depression [8].

RDA: 1,000 mg per day for adults

Food Sources of Calcium:

2. Chromium

A trace mineral found in small amounts in the body, chromium helps the body metabolize food [9]. A lack of chromium hurts the body’s ability to regulate insulin (the hormone that regulates sugar) and may lead to diabetes-related complications like vision loss and high blood pressure [10].

How eating it helps: Chromium plays an important role in increasing the brains’ level of serotonin, norepinephrine, and melatonin, which help the brain regulate emotion and mood [11]. Because chromium works directly with the brain’s mood regulators, it’s been found to be an effective treatment of depression [11].

RDA: 25 mcg per day for women; 35 mcg per day for men

Food Sources of Chromium:

  • Broccoli (1/2 cup): 11 mcg
  • Grape juice (1 cup): 8 mcg
  • Whole-wheat English muffin (1 piece): 4 mcg
  • Potatoes (mashed) (1 cup): 3 mcg
  • Turkey breast (1/3 cup): 2 mcg
3. Folate

Folate (alternatively known as B9 or folic acid) helps the body create new cells and supports serotonin regulation. Serotonin passes messages between nerve cells and helps the brain manage a variety of functions, from determining mood to regulating social behavior. Folate deficiency can cause fatigue in addition to lowering levels of serotonin [12].

How eating it helps: A pair of power nutrients, Folate and B12 are often paired together to treat depression [13]. By itself, Folate has the added benefit of boosting the efficiency of antidepressants [14].

RDA: 400 mcg per day for adults

Food Sources of Folate:

4. Iron


Iron plays an important role in the body, from transporting oxygen to supporting energy levels and aiding muscle strength. Low levels of iron can lead to feelings of fatigue and depression [15]. Iron deficiency appears more frequently in women than men, especially women of childbearing age [5].

How eating helps: Consuming enough iron will help prevent iron anemia (not enough iron), a condition that commonly affects women more than men. Keeping enough iron in the body is important, as the fatigue, apathy, and mood change associated with the iron deficiency can often lead to depression [4].

RDA: 18 mg per day for women; 8 mg per day for men

Food Sources of Iron

5. Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that plays over 300 roles in maintaining and protecting the body’s health. Deficiency can cause irritability, fatigue, mental confusion, and predisposition to stress.

How eating it helps: Magnesium plays a large role in the development of serotonin, which is a major contributor to feelings of happiness [16]. Due to its ability to help regulate emotions, it’s a common element in homeopathic remedies for balancing mood [17].

RDA: 310 mg per day for women; 400 mg per day for men

Food Sources of Magnesium:

6. Omega-3s

Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that plays an important role in brain health and contributes up to 18 percent of the brain’s weight [18].The body does not naturally produce Omega-3s, so the fatty acid needs to be consumed from outside sources. Deficiency symptoms include fatigue, mood swings, memory decline, and depression.

How eating it helps: Studies show a correlation between consumption of fish with high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and a decreased risk of depression and suicide [19]. Whether eating fish or snacking on chia seeds, increasing your intake of omega 3 fatty acids may help combat depression [20]

RDA: There is no established RDA for Omega-3s, but the American Heart Association suggests eating a variety of fish (trout, herring, and salmon) at least twice a week. For vegetarians, there are also plenty of non-meat sources of Omega-3s (see below for a few suggestions). That said, the fatty acids found in plant sources are different from those found in marine sources, and it may be smart for vegetarians to consider using supplements that contain DHA Omega-3s (algae supplements are a popular way to do so) in order to derive maximum benefits. 

Food Sources of Omega-3:

7. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 helps the production of neurotransmitters (which send messages from the brain to the rest of the body). Deficiency in B6 can cause short-term anemia; long-term effects include a weakened immune system, confusion, and depression.

How eating it helps: Consuming vitamin B6 is essential for regulating brain function, which influences our emotions [21]. In addition to regulating healthy moods, Vitamin B6 is also an effective method for treating premenstrual depression [22].

RDA: 1.3 mg per day for adults

Food Sources of B6:

8. Vitamin B12

B12  is an essential element that aids in the creation of red blood cells and nerves. Low levels of B12 can cause short-term fatigue, slowed reasoning, and paranoia, and are associated with depression [13]. Vitamin B-12 is found naturally in meats, eggs, and animal byproducts, meaning vegetarians and vegans have an increased risk of developing a deficiency.

How eating it helps: Because moods depend largely on signals from the brain, B12 plays an important role in regulating depression — consuming enough vitamin B12 allows the body to synthesize a group of nutrients critical for normal neurological function [23].

RDA: 2.4 mcg per day for adults

Food Sources of B12:

9. Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps regulate cell growth, plays an important role in maintaining the immune system, and (when paired with calcium) protects bones. Studies show that low levels of vitamin D are associated with depressive symptoms in both men and women [24] [25]. Most often, lowered levels of Vitamin D are the result of indoor lifestyles, limited sun exposure, and inadequate intake of vitamin-D-rich foods.

How eating it helps: If you’re feeling blue, increasing vitamin D could help ward off depression.  Consuming the mood-regulating vitamin is important, especially during the wintertime when light from the sun (a natural producer of vitamin D) is limited [26].

RDA: 600 IU per day for adults ages 15 to 60

IU (International Unit) is a type of measurement typically reserved for Vitamin A, C, D and E. 40 IU’s of Vitamin D will equal 1 mcg.

Food Sources of Vitamin D:

10. Zinc

Zinc is found in almost every cell and plays an important role in supporting a healthy immune system and helping the body protect the gut from damage [27]. Low levels of zinc in the diet can lead to a variety of ailments, including a weakened immune system, loss of appetite, anemia, hair loss, and depression. Vegetarians need as much as 50 percent more zinc than non-vegetarians due to the body’s lower absorption rate of plant-based zinc [5].

How eating it helps: Studies have identified zinc as an important factor in decreasing depressive symptoms, as the vitamin can improve the response of antidepressants while reducing the side effects of anti-depression medication [28]. A lack of zinc can trigger depressive behaviors, so load up on zinc-rich foods to balance your mood [29].

RDA:  11mg per day for men; 8mg per day for women

Food Sources of Zinc:

What foods do you eat for maximum happiness? Share in the comments below, or get in touch with us on Facebook!

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Works Cited +

  1. Association of Western and traditional diets with depression and anxiety in women. Jacka, F.N., Pasco, J.A., Mykletun, A., et all.  Department of Clinical and Biomedical Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2010 Mar; 167(3):305-11
  2. The association between habitual diet quality and the common mental disorders in community-dwelling adults: the Hordaland Health study. Jacka, F.N., Mykletun, A., Berk, M., et all Department of Clinical and Biomedical Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Barwon Health, Australia.  Psychosomatic Medicine, 2011 Jul-Aug; 73(6):483-90
  3. Essential fatty acids and the brain. Haag, M. Department of Physiology, University of Pretoria, South Africa. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 2003, 2003 Apr; 48(3):195-203
  4. Understanding Nutrition, depression and mental illness. Sathyanarayana Rao, T.S., Asha, M.R., Ramesh, et all. Department of Psychiatry, JSS Medical College, Mysore, India. Indiana Journal of Psychiatry 2008, April/Jun; 50(20):77-82
  5. Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Therapies to Promote Healthy Moods. Kemper, K., Shannon, S. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 2007 December; 54(6): 901–926
  6. Micronutrients and the premenstrual syndrome: the case for calcium. Thys-Jacobs S. Metabolic Bone Center, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, Columbia University, New York, New York. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2000 Apr; 19 (2):220-7
  7. Micronutrients and the premenstrual syndrome: the case for calcium. Metabolic Bone Center, St. Luke’s –Roosevelt Hospital Center, Columbia University, New York. Thys-Jacobs, S. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2000 Apr; 19(2):220–227
  8. Calcium and vitamin D intake and risk of incident premenstrual syndrome. Bertone-Johnson, E.R., Hankinson, S.E., Bendich, A., et all.   Department of Public Health, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2005 Jun 13; 165(11):1246-52
  9. Chromium as an essential nutrient for humans. Anderson,P.A. Beltsville Human Nutrition Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, Maryland. Regulatory Toxicology Pharmacology: RTP. 1997 Aug;26(1 Pt 2):S35-41
  10. Diabetes Chromium in the prevention and control of diabetes. Anderson, R.A. Nutrient Requirements and Functions Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Maryland. Metabolism, 2000 Feb;26(1):22-7
  11. Effectiveness of chromium in atypical depression: a placebo-controlled trial. Docherty, J.P., Sack, D.A., Roffman, M. et all. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, North Carolina. Biological Psychiatry, 2003 Feb 1; 53(3):261-4
  12. Folate and Depression- a neglected problem. Young, S. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience 2007, March; 32(2):80-82
  13. Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12. Coppen, A., Bolander-Gouaille, C. MRC Neuropsychiatric Research Laboratory, Surrey, UK. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2005 Jan; 19(1):59-65
  14. Enhancement of the antidepressant action of fluoxetine by folic acid: a randomized, placebo controlled trial. Coppen A, Bailey J. Journal of Affect Disorders. 2000 Nov; 60(2):121–130
  15. Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illness. Rao, T.S., Asha, M.R., Ramesh, B.N. et all. Rao KS. Department of Psychiatry, JSS Medical College, India. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 2008 Apr; 50(2):77-82
  16. Magnesium for treatment-resistant depression: a review and hypothesis. Eby, G.A., Eby, K.L. George Eby Research Institute, Austin, Texas. Medical Hypotheses. 2010 Apr;74(4):649-60
  17. Magnesium in depression. Serefko, A., Szopa, A., Wlaź, P., et all.  Department of Applied Pharmacy, Medical University of Lublin, Poland. Pharmacology Reports 2013;65(3):547-54
  18. Plant derived omega-3-fatty acids protect mitochondrial function in the brain. Eckert, G.P., Franke, C., Noldner, M., et al. Department of Pharmacology, University of Frankfurt, Germany. Pharmacological Research: The official Journal of the Italian Pharmacological Society, 2010 Mar;61(3):234-41
  19. Serum omega-3 fatty acids are associated with variation in mood, personality and behavior in hypercholesterolemic community volunteers. Conklin, S.M., Harris, J.I., Manuck, S.B., et all. Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine Postdoctoral Training Program, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. Psychiatry Research, 2007 Jul 30; 152(1):1-10
  20. Omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Peet, M., Stokes, C. Swallownest Court Hospital, Doncaster and South Humber Heathcare NHS Trust, Sheffield, UK. Drugs, 2005; 65(8):1051-9
  21. Vitamin B6 level is associated with symptoms of depression. Hvas, A.M., Juul, S., Bech, P., et all. Department of Clinical Biochemistry, Aarhus University Hospital, AKH, Aarhus, Denmark. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.2004 Nov-Dec;73(6):340-3
  22. Efficacy of vitamin B-6 in the treatment of PMS. Wyatt, K.M., Dimmock, P.W., Jones, P.W. Academic Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, North Staffordshire Hospital. BMJ, 1999 May 22’318 (7195): 1375-81
  23. Methylmalonic acid and cognitive function in the Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study. McCracken, C., Hudson, P., Ellis, R., et all. University Department of Psychiatry, Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Liverpool, United Kingdom. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006 Dec;84(6):1406-11
  24. The association between low vitamin D and depressive disorders. Milaneschi, Y., Hoogendijk, W., Lips, P., et all.  Department of Psychiatry and EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research and Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Molecular Psychiatry2013 Apr 9
  25. Low vitamin D levels are associated with symptoms of depression in young adult males. Black, L.J., Jacoby, P., Allen, K.L., et all Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Centre for Child Health Research, The University of Western Australia, Australia. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 2013 Nov 13
  26. Vitamin D and depression: where is all the sunshine? Penckofer, S., Kouba, J., Byrn, M., et all. Loyola University Chicago, School of Nursing, Illinois. Issues in Mental Health Nursing. 2010 Jun; 31(6):385-93
  27. Zinc supplementation tightens "leaky gut" in Crohn's disease. Sturniolo, G.C., Di Leo, V., Ferronato, A., et all. Dipartimento di Scienze Chirurgiche e Gastroenterologiche, Università di Padova, Italy. Inflammatory Bowel Disease, 2001 May;7(2):94-8
  28. Copper and Zinc Levels in Hair of Schizophrenic and Depressed Patients. Abd Elaziz, A., Essam, M., Doaa, A., et all.  Mansoura University, Egypt.  Egyptian Journal of Psychiatry 2010, Jan; Vol 30, no 1
  29. Potential roles of zinc in the pathophysiology and treatment of major depressive disorder. Swardfager, W., Herrmann, N., McIntyre, R.S., et all. Neuropharmacology Research Group, Sunnybrook Research Institute, Toronto, Canada. Neuroscience and biobehavioral review 2013 Jun;37(5):911-29