There’s really no such thing as a superfood, says Gold’s Gym Wellness Director Connie Cheng. But there are certain types of good mood foods that can help you feel better because they contain the nutrients that help remove harmful toxins from your body.
Those toxins, called free radicals, can be produced naturally by organ function, metabolism and exercise. They can also come from sources outside of your body, including UV rays, smoking, excess alcohol intake, pollution and poor nutrition.
“An excess of free radicals can cause cellular damage, even to our neural cells,” Cheng says. “That can manifest in fatigue or mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.”
Good mood food makes you feel better — here’s why
You want to choose food that can counter the toxins. Here are four major antioxidant nutrients that fight free radicals and where they can be found in food:
These nutrients are nicknamed “brain food” because they help grow neural tissues and create sharper connections in your central nervous system, with benefits such as improving memory.
Good mood food where they’re found: salmon, ground flaxseed, walnuts and algae.
You need this amino acid for your body to create serotonin, a chemical that transmits messages between nerve cells. Serotonin is also known as “the happy chemical”; studies show a link between low serotonin levels and depression.
3. Vitamin D
Research shows that this vitamin helps balance mood and that some people with depression and anxiety are found to be vitamin D deficient.
Good mood food where it’s found: fortified products such as milk and orange juice, as well as cereals and some breads. However, the richest source of vitamin D is the sun. Spending 15 minutes outside each day will give you the amount you need.
This mineral is vital to a healthy immune system and plays a role in regulating how your neurons communicate with each other, which can affect your learning ability and memory function.
Good mood food where it’s found: meat, shellfish, whole grains, chickpeas, some nuts and cocoa powder.
“Keep in mind: You want to always get the nutrients you need from food first, because your body knows what to do with them,” Cheng says. “However, in cases like omega-3s, which aren’t found in very many natural sources, a supplement could be beneficial.”
Here’s one of Connie’s “good mood food” recipes, which includes ingredients – chickpeas and cocoa powder – that will give your body a tasty dose of zinc and tryptophan:
Get in the matcha mood
Matcha is powdered pure green tea leaves that come from plants specially grown in an environment that stimulates higher production of antioxidants. Direct consumption of the leaves puts their nutrients on your body’s fast track to fighting free radicals.
“When you drink regular tea, you’ll get some of the tea leaf nutrients in the water, but they’re diluted,” Cheng says. “Drinking matcha is consuming the actual tea leaf in powder form, so you’re getting three times the amount of antioxidants.”
One of those antioxidants, theanine, is an amino acid that has been studied as a good mood food for its effect on improving relaxation and concentration and for its ability to boost energy and mood in the same way as caffeine (which is also in matcha).
Here’s a matcha recipe to try:
Eat for energy and mood
How you eat is just as important as what you eat when it comes to staying energized throughout the day.
Balanced meals of complex carbs (beans, whole grains, vegetables), proteins and healthy fats take longer for your body to digest. Because of that, the release of glucose from your food into your body, which gives you energy, is slow and steady.
In comparison, meals loaded with simple carbs (fruits, white bread, white rice, processed sugar, baked goods) are easy for your body to digest, which results in glucose spikes followed by crashes. That energy roller coaster can make you feel hungry, which leads to moodiness and impulsive eating.
“When you crash, you feel irritable,” Cheng says. “A steady, balanced eating pattern will slow down that glucose release and keep your energy and mood up.”
While you’re feeling good, check out some more helpful nutrition posts: