There is growing evidence showing that certain foods can help improve your overall mood and reduce the risks and symptoms of depression.
While there is no single food or nutrient to prevent or cure depression, consuming a variety of vegetables, lean protein, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and low-fat dairy can help you improve your mental and physical health.
"Focus on your overall eating pattern. It's not just about what you are eating but also what you are not eating," says Cristina Montoya, a registered dietician, living with arthritis herself.
Here are five foods that could help boost your mood and beat the winter blues.
1. Fatty fish
Some studies have shown that people with compromised mental health have lower levels of omega-3s fatty acids (omega-3s).
Omega-3s may help improve mood and depression by reducing inflammation, oxidative stress, and regulating neurotransmitter pathways and cell signalling.
Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, anchovies, oysters and cod liver oil are an excellent source of omega-3s.
"If you don't eat fish, there are plant sources of omega-3s like walnuts, algae oil, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, and chia seeds," adds Montoya.
Two types of omega-3s, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are linked with reduced risk of mood disorders like depression.
If you're thinking of taking Omega-3 supplements, keep in mind there are many available options that may vary in effectiveness and quality, and should be tailored to your eating habits.
Consult with your healthcare provider before taking new supplements to ensure it doesn't interfere with your current medication.
Try our delicious Flaxseed-Crusted Salmon recipe for dinner or snack on our Hemp & Walnut Energy Bites if you prefer plant-based options.
"Did the Christmas turkey make you sleepy? That's because it contains high levels of tryptophan, an essential amino acid the body does not produce and must be obtained from dietary sources," says Montoya.
Several studies have suggested that lower levels of tryptophan in the body may be associated with depression.
Tryptophan is the sole precursor of serotonin, a vital neurotransmitter that plays a central role in regulating sleep, appetite, and impulse control. Once serotonin has been produced from tryptophan, it can convert into melatonin, a crucial molecule that regulates the body's sleep-wake cycle.
The main dietary sources of tryptophan are protein-containing foods like nuts, poultry, salmon, dairy, eggs, and crab.
Plant-based alternatives include leafy greens, sunflower seeds, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, broccoli, and peas.
Try our hearty Rosemary chicken and asparagus quinoa or this Edamame and avocado spread, an easy-to-make plant-based alternative.
3. Berries and beets
Fruits and vegetables with red to purplish-blue colouring have high levels of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are antioxidants that can protect against oxidative stress, and boost blood flow to areas of the brain responsible for emotion management and cognitive control.
These foods are also known to improve gut health, which is a key contributor to mental health.
Blackberries, blueberries, currants, grapes, plums and cherries, beets, eggplants, red cabbage, red onions, beets and purple potatoes are all great options.
Cristina recommends this Very berry tea smoothie recipe, an easy way to boost your fruit intake and it works wonderfully as an afternoon pick-me up.
4. Beans and lentils
Beans and lentils are excellent sources of plant-based protein, fibre, and most importantly, B vitamins. B vitamins play a vital role in the production of essential neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid, which are crucial for balancing mood.
Research has shown that low levels of B vitamins, especially B6 and folate, are linked to mood disorders such as depression.
“Beans and lentils are rich in zinc, magnesium, selenium, and non-heme iron, which have been found to positively affect mood,” says Montoya.
Try our Hearty lentil soup recipe to keep yourself warm this winter.
5. Dark chocolate
Some preclinical studies suggest that the polyphenolic compounds in dark chocolate have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that could potentially reduce symptoms of depression.
A study conducted in 18 healthy adults in Korea in 2022 discovered that consuming 30 g of 85% cocoa dark chocolate daily for three weeks improved negative mood. The researchers observed that the beneficial effects were linked to changes in the gut microbiota.
Dark chocolate exhibited prebiotic properties, promoting the growth and variety of beneficial bacteria.
“It is fine to indulge once in a while. Make sure to practice mindfulness when treating yourself to avoid binging. Enjoy and savour the treat!” says Montoya.
Indulge your sweet tooth by treating yourself to our exquisite Raspberry chocolate chia pudding.
For more ideas to include these mood-boosting foods in your diet, check out our arthritis-friendly recipes!