Since I'm always interested in learning how food can help to prevent and manage different health conditions, a recent study about the link between coffee and depression caught my attention. The study, which appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine and got a lot of buzz, suggested that women who drink coffee have lower rates of depression. Sure, it was an association, which doesn’t prove that coffee was responsible for the lower rates of depression, but it was a very large study (more than 50,000 women) that traced coffee intake and depression diagnoses over the course of 14 years. As a registered dietitian and associate nutrition editor at EatingWell Magazine, that’s strong enough evidence for me to say that if you already drink coffee, you can count this among the other potential health boons to support your coffee habit (4 More Health Reasons Not to Quit Coffee—and 4 Cons to Consider).
And the news got me thinking about what other foods we can be eating to help deal with the blues (one in twenty Americans suffers from depression, by the way). So if you’re feeling blue—or want to ward off feeling that way—here are some foods to consider. As with any health condition, you should, of course, consult your healthcare provider for a full treatment plan.
Omega-3 fatty acids help our brain cells communicate and enhance the concentration of dopamine and serotonin—two neurotransmitters that help regulate mood. Seafood, such as salmon and sardines, is high in omega-3s, as are walnuts and ground flaxseed. In one study, researchers found that participants who had lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were more likely to report mild or moderate symptoms of depression. Get more omega-3's with these 6 Best Fish for Your Health (And Find Out 6 to Avoid).
Saffron, those expensive red threads that lend Persian cooking an intense golden color, may not be a spice you cook with often. But using it could raise your spirits. As Joyce Hendley reported in EatingWell Magazine, saffron has long been used in traditional Persian medicine as a mood lifter, usually steeped into a medicinal tea or used to prepare rice. Tehran University of Medical Sciences researcher Shahin Akhondzadeh, Ph.D., has found that saffron has antidepressant effects comparable to the antidepressants fluoxetine (Prozac) and imipramine (Tofranil), likely because it makes the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin more available to the brain (the same mechanism that makes Prozac work).
Related: 6 Healing Spices to Keep in Your Kitchen
Cutting out carbs can have an unintended consequence: a foul mood. Researchers suspect that’s because carbs promote the production of serotonin. In a study from the Archives of Internal Medicine, people who followed a very low-carbohydrate diet for a year—which allowed only 20 to 40 grams of carbs daily, about the amount in just 1/2 cup of rice plus one slice of bread—experienced more depression, anxiety and anger than those assigned to a low-fat, high-carb diet that focused on low-fat dairy, whole grains, fruit and beans.
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Chocolate certainly brings a smile to my face. And there’s actually a scientific reason why! Chocolate’s antioxidants may help lower levels of cortisol—the so-called stress hormone. Stressed-out people who ate 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate daily for two weeks had lower levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, in a study done recently at the Nestlé Research Center in Switzerland. Choose dark chocolate with the highest cacao content to get the most antioxidant—and be mindful of the 230 calories in 1.4 ounces of chocolate.
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What foods lift your mood? Tell us what you think below.