A common “Western” solution to depression and anxiety is to take drugs like Prozac or Xanax. In fact, psychiatric medications are some of the most widely prescribed drugs in the U.S. In many cases, though, these drugs do not treat the underlying causes of depression and anxiety, and they come with a slew of negative side effects, including risk of addiction.
A diet rich in “good mood foods” that boost serotonin and stimulate dopamine production can be an easy adjustment that brings forth healthy and happy change in your life. Serotonin and dopamine are both crucial to mental health. Serotonin is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, while dopamine controls emotional responses like pleasure and pain. Luckily, you can increase these feel-good reactions by eating certain foods.
Here are some of the key nutrients that can naturally help lift your mood, balance your weight, and add the zest back into your life:
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Your brain requires essential omega-3 fatty acids to maintain proper functioning. This is just one of the reasons why low-fat diets are not healthy. Omega-3 fatty acids play a role in the synthesis of serotonin, and therefore elevate your mood and decrease feelings of depression naturally. They also help you feel satiated, which helps eliminate cravings.
Some good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are:
- Wild-caught oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and anchovies
- Chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, and pumpkin seeds
2. Tyrosine and Tryptophan
Tyrosine and tryptophan are both amino acids. Tyrosine is an amino acid that is the building block of dopamine. It helps neurotransmitters combat stress in your body, helps regulate the metabolic functions of your organs, and can help improve alertness and memory. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a building block of proteins. It is a natural mood regulator, helps balance hormones, and aids in serotonin production.
Supplementing with tryptophan- and tyrosine-rich foods has a natural calming effect on the body and can lift your mood. Some good sources are:
- Organic/grass-fed meat and wild game
- Organic/pastured eggs
- Seaweed (Spirulina)
- Red beets
- High-quality organic/raw cheese
- Beans and other legumes
3. B6 and B3 vitamins
B3 (niacin) is one of the building blocks of the amino acid tryptophan, and tryptophan is one of the building blocks of serotonin. B6 helps conserve the tryptophan in the body. These B vitamins help you relax and reduce anxiety.
Some good food sources are:
- Dark leafy greens (turnip greens, Swiss chard, mustard greens, collards, spinach)
- Bell peppers
- Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts)
- Wild-caught fish
4. Vitamin D
A lack of vitamin D can negatively affect the transport of dopamine. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight absorbed through the skin or via supplementation, but these foods help provide some as well:
- Organic/pastured eggs
- Cod liver oil
Probiotic foods help create and balance a proper microbiome. This is crucial for utilizing nutrients for brain and organ functioning. Some good sources include:
- Real fermented miso
- Umeboshi plums
- Raw apple cider vinegar
The foods we eat affect every part of our bodies, including our emotional, mental and spiritual states. If you are suffering from depression, it’s important to address your diet and eliminate foods that may be triggering your distress and anxiety. Cut the junk and stimulants, and stick to wholesome diet rich in good mood foods.
Katie Ulrich is a health coach at Dr. Frank Lipman’s Eleven Eleven Wellness Center. She is a certified Holistic Health Coach through The Academy of Healing Nutrition and holds her 200-hour Yoga Certification. As a coach, her goals are to help elevate her clients with education about the power of a whole-foods diet and to help guide them about which foods work best for their body and lifestyle.