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 functionEssential 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. To date, researchers have studied the association between foods and the brain and identified ten 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 zincUnderstanding 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):77-82Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Therapies to Promote Healthy Moods. Kemper, K., Shannon, S. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 2007 December; 54(6): 901–926.
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 ofmicrogram and 1,000 mcg equals 1 mg.
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 particularMicronutrients 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. (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 requirementsMicronutrients 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.
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 PMSMicronutrients 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. Since estrogen plays a large role in calcium production, calcium consumption may improve PMS-related depressionCalcium 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.
A trace mineral found in small amounts in the body, chromium helps the body metabolize foodChromium 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. 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 pressureDiabetes 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.
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 moodEffectiveness 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. Because chromium works directly with the brain’s mood regulators, it’s been found to be an effective treatment of depressionEffectiveness 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.
RDA:25 mcg per day for women; 35 mcg per day for men
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 serotoninFolate and Depression- a neglected problem. Young, S. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience 2007, March; 32(2):80-82.
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 depressionUnderstanding 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.
RDA: 18 mg per day for women; 8 mg per day for men
How eating it helps: Magnesium plays a large role in the development of serotonin, which is a major contributor to feelings of happinessMagnesium 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. Due to its ability to help regulate emotions, it’s a common element in homeopathic remedies for balancing moodMagnesium 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.
RDA: 310 mg per day for women; 400 mg per day for men
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 weightPlant 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.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.
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.
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: 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 functionMethylmalonic 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.
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 womenThe 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 9Low 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. 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 limitedVitamin 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.
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 medicationCopper 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. A lack of zinc can trigger depressive behaviors, so load up on zinc-rich foods to balance your moodPotential 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.