5 Feel-Good Foods Scientifically Proven to Make You Happier

Need a pick-me-up? Try these five foods, all of which have been proven to improve mood and reduce stress.

It's no secret that what you eat affects how you look.

But did you know that food also affects how you feel?

It's true—certain foods have been scientifically proven to foster emotional well-being, while others are prone to amplify depressive thoughts. A 2009 study in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that "consumption of fruits, vegetables and fish affords protection against the onset of depressive symptoms 5 years later, whereas a diet rich in processed meat, chocolate, sweet desserts, fried food, refined cereals and high-fat dairy products increases vulnerability." Basically, if you eat junk, you'll feel like junk.

So, what are some of the best foods for boosting your mood? Read on to find out.

1. Walnuts

Walnuts

Walnuts are a super snack. In addition to a hearty amount of fiber and protein, they're packed with a tremendous amount of healthy fat. A single one-ounce serving of walnuts contains 13 grams of polyunsaturated fat, much of which comes in the form of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). ALA is one of two essential fatty acids necessary for health but that cannot be produced within the human body. In addition to reducing your risk of heart attack and strengthening your bones, ALA has been found to have an amazing effect on mood.

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A 2011 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that ALA intake was inversely associated with risk of depression in U.S. women. ALA has also been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, which in turn leads to an increase in serotonin synthesis in the brain. Serotonin is an important mood stabilizer that contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. Other great sources of ALA include flax and chia seeds.

2. Oysters

Oysters

Oysters have long been hailed as an aphrodisiac. Perhaps some of this effect is related to their sky-high zinc content. Three oysters contain roughly 74 milligrams of zinc, an absolutely astonishing amount compared to many other foods. Zinc is a micronutrient in which many people are unknowingly deficient. It's crucial for supporting optimal testosterone levels and increasing immune health, but it also can have potent antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects.

A 2013 meta-analysis published in Biological Psychiatry found that depressed people tended to have about 14 percent less zinc in their blood than the average person, and greater deficiencies were linked to more severe cases of depression. Zinc has also been found to play a protective role in the body's blood-brain barrier, helping to keep harmful compounds from seeping into the brain. If you're feeling blue, this seafood might do the trick.

3. Kefir and Yogurt

Yogurt

Yogurt and kefir are great sources of valuable nutrients such as protein, calcium and B vitamins. But did you know they can also reduce stress? It's true. A 2013 study conducted at UCLA found that women who ate probiotic yogurt twice a day over a four-week period had lower levels of activity in areas of the brain associated with emotion and pain. They also demonstrated higher levels of activity in areas of brain associated with decision making. How is this possible? Kefir and yogurt with live and active cultures have a positive effect on the bacteria living inside your gut.

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Your brain and gut communicate with one another via the vagus nerve, so the state of your gut can certainly have an impact on your neurochemistry. In a 2012 study, researchers took gut bacteria from an adventurous, exploratory species of mice and implanted it into a shy, timid species. The result? The shy mice suddenly became more bold and adventurous. And when gut bacteria was taken from the shy mice and implanted into the adventurous mice, they suddenly became more shy and hesitant in their behavior. The quickest route to better mental health might be through the gut.

4. Dark Chocolate

Dark Chocolate

In addition to being high in fiber and iron, dark chocolate is packed with powerful antioxidant compounds that have been proven to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some of those antioxidants can have a relaxing effect. A 2013 study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that participants who drank a chocolate drink containing 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate once daily felt calmer and more content than those who did not. It's believed that dark chocolate boosts serotonin levels.

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To ensure that you get the best benefits, look for organic chocolate labeled at least 70 percent cocoa. That's the good stuff. As for serving size, most researchers agree you need no more than a 1-inch square per day

5. Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and veggies are the perfect fuel for your body and mind.

A 2016 study from the American Journal of Public Health that followed 12,000 randomly selected Australians found that happiness levels increased for each extra daily portion of produce consumed—up to eight portions per day. The study adjusted for life circumstances that could also affect happiness. Researchers saw that those who increased their produce portions from zero per day up to eight per day scored an increase on a "life-satisfaction" point scale similar to someone who went from being unemployed to employed. If you're not eating enough fruits and veggies, you could be denying yourself a happier, healthier life.

 RELATED: Why You Should Eat The Peel of These 12 Fruits and Veggies


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Topics: PERFORMANCE NUTRITION | HEALTHY EATING | FRUITS AND VEGETABLES | SEAFOOD | DAIRY PRODUCTS | LOSE FAT | DARK CHOCOLATE | WALNUTS