Consider food’s purely sensory pleasures – the cool, sweet slip of silky ice cream on your tongue; the spicy, aromatic complexity of a divine curry; the rich, crackly crunch of buttered popcorn. Along with a meal’s flavor and feel in your mouth, brain chemicals affect the joy you get from eating even before you lift your fork. Your brain releases dopamine in anticipation of eating good food, and that anticipation makes eating even more pleasurable, What’s more, certain foods, like these five, are blessed with compounds that lift your spirits.
Here’s a great reason to chow down at the clambake: Clams are packed with vitamin B12; low levels of that vitamin can lead to depression, as the brain needs B12 to make dopamine and serotonin. Depressed people who had low levels of B12 (and were taking antidepressants) felt much better 3 months after adding a B12 supplement. Bonus: even canned clams, including those in chowder, offer a B12 boost. If you can’t have clams every day, you can get the vitamin from other seafood, including trout and salmon, as well as beef, chicken, dairy products, and fortified cereals.
Walnuts & Flax
Nuts and seeds, especially these two, are loaded with alpha-linolenic acid. In research from the Nurses’ Health Study, women who had the most ALA in their diets were less likely to be depressed. Here’s how it works: When your blood levels of ALA are low, so are you; low ALA levels fan the flames of inflammation, which has been linked to depression. What’s more, low ALA also decreases levels of the brain chemicals dopamine, which is responsible for feelings of joy, and serotonin, which inhibits anger and aggression.
According to Nurses’ Health Study research, women who drank two to three cups of caffeinated coffee a day were about 15 percent less likely to become depressed; those who drank four or more cups were at 20 percent lower risk. We can probably thank caffeine for the happy boost _ a psychoactive drug that works sort of like a harmless crack cocaine, increasing dopamine and serotonin transmission within just 30 minutes.
Woot! Here’s another great reason to indulge in rich, dark chocolate (the darker, the better): It’s loaded with chemicals, such as polyphenols, that might boost your mood (one polyphenol actually mimics marijuana’s mood-boosting effects.). In a 2013 study, Australian researchers reported that volunteers who chugged the biggest dose of a dark-chocolate drink laced with zero, 250, or 500 mg of polyphenols, also got a shot of calm and contentment.
These summery treats also are packed with vitamin B6, which a 2010 study says reduces depression in people 65 and older. And that’s not all: These bright yellow beauties contain the antioxidants beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, higher levels of which are linked to higher moods.