By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D. , August 30, 2010 - 11:07am
I’m on a high from my summer vacation—and already not looking forward to it ending. No one wants to trade their carefree summer days spent outdoors for 8 hours of fluorescent lights, a desk and a computer. And even worse, the end of summer vacation also means summer is winding down. So if you’re like me and feeling a little bummed about returning to the office (or going back to school) and the upcoming season transition, I suggest you have these mood-boosting foods on hand.
Chocolate: I know, I know, this is not news to you. But what I like is that there’s some science behind the theory that chocolate makes us happy: eating dark chocolate (1.4 ounces of it, to be exact) every day for two weeks reduced stress hormones, including cortisol, in people who were highly stressed, a study done at the Nestlé Research Center in Switzerland recently found. Experts believe it could be thanks to the antioxidants in chocolate. When you do indulge, be sure to account for the 235 calories that 1.4 ounces of chocolate delivers—or you may be stressed to see extra pounds creeping on.
Related Link: 100-calorie chocolate desserts 
Carbs: Despite persistent myths to the contrary, carbs don’t make you fat and they can boost your mood. In a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, people who for a year followed a very-low-carbohydrate diet—which allowed only 20 to 40 grams of carbs daily, about the amount in just 1/2 cup of rice plus one piece 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. Researchers suspect that carbs promote the production of serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical. Also, the challenge of following such a restrictive low-carb diet for a full year may have negatively impacted mood.
Related Link: Eat pasta and still lose weight with these low-cal pasta recipes. 
Fruits & Vegetables (and other whole foods): Another reason to eat healthy, whole foods! In a recent study of close to 3,500 men and women published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, those who reported eating a diet rich in whole foods in the previous year were less likely to report feeling depressed than those who ate lots of desserts, fried foods, processed meats, refined grains and high-fat dairy products. Previous studies have shown that antioxidants in fruits and vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids in fish are associated with lower risk of depression. Folate, a B vitamin found in beans, citrus and dark green vegetables like spinach, affects neurotransmitters that impact mood. It’s possible that the protectiveness of the whole-food diet comes from a cumulative effect of these nutrients.
Related Link: Healthy dinners packed with antioxidant-rich produce. 
Fish: Eating oily, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, rainbow trout) and mussels will give you omega-3s—a key mood-boosting nutrient and one our bodies don’t produce. Omega-3s alter brain chemicals linked with mood—specifically dopamine and serotonin. (Low levels of serotonin are linked with depression, aggression and suicidal tendencies, while dopamine is a “reward” chemical that the brain releases in response to pleasurable experiences, such as eating or having sex.)
Related Link: Up your intake with 6 of the top omega 3-rich foods and recipes for them. 
Saffron: In one study, from Iran’s Roozbeh Psychiatric Hospital at Tehran University of Medical Sciences, 50 women with PMS were given two (15 mg) saffron capsules or placebo capsules daily over two menstrual cycles, keeping track of their symptoms in diaries. By the end of the study, over three-quarters of the women who had taken the equivalent of a micropinch of saffron reported that their PMS symptoms (such as mood swings and depression) declined by at least half, compared with only 8 percent of women in the placebo group. In earlier studies, saffron had antidepressant effects comparable to the antidepressants fluoxetine (Prozac) and imipramine (Tofranil). Researchers believe that the spice works by “the same mechanism as Prozac,” helping to make the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin more available to the brain.
Related Link: Add saffron to your diet with these healthy recipes. 
How do you boost your mood naturally? Tell us what you think below.