Some foods taste so good while we’re eating them, but can leave us feeling blah, bloated and feeling guilty mere moments after we’ve brushed away the crumbs. But other foods are scientifically shown to lift our spirits.
1. Walnuts and cashews in their raw form, no sodium
An ounce of walnuts has 4 grams of protein (which fills you up and helps keep blood sugar levels steady) and 2 grams of fiber (also helps fill you up), says New York nutritionist Elisa Zied, R.D and author of “Younger Next Week.”
They’re also a good source of magnesium and phosophorus: Having low levels of magnesium has been linked to increased risk of depression, while high levels of magnesium have been linked to reduced symptoms of depression. Walnuts also contain cell-protecting antioxidants and are low in carbohydrates, which means they won’t cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin. “Insulin spikes are a reason people’s moods crap out, particularly in late afternoon,” says Dr. Drew Ramsey, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and co-author of “The Happiness Diet.”
Suggested serving: One handful
One cup of kale is an an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K and magnesium (see above re magnesium), and a good source of fiber, says Zied. Kale is also high in copper, a trace mineral that works to support many vital functions.
“[Kale] is one of the healthiest foods on the planet,” says Ramsay.
Suggested serving: For salads, shoot for 1-2 cups of raw kale. For juicing, about the same. For kale chips, homemade is best, says Ramsey. And shoot for 5-10 chips.
“Oysters are incredibly low in calories and decrease inflammation,” says New York nutritionist Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D. and author of “Read It before You Eat It.”
Taub-Dix says oysters are heart-healthy and contribute to that great feeling after eating because they improve overall circulation. Oysters are also very high in essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids. And, of course, they’ve long been considered an aphrodisiac.
“Oysters are always on the menu around Valentine’s Day,” says Taub-Dix.
Oysters are also a great source of zinc — an undervalued mineral, says Ramsey — and vitamin B12. Zinc has a role in helping our bodies fight off stress and is essential to the part of the brain that regulates mood and memory.
Ramsey calls oysters the “perfect brain food.”
Suggested serving: 6-12 oysters
Coffee is practically a magic bean when it comes to mood lifting: The caffeine in coffee can boost mental focus and alertness and athletic performance. Coffee consumption may also protect against Type 2 diabetes and decrease the risk of depression. But the less you consume, the better it works.
Ramsay recommends avoiding very sugary coffee drinks, which cause bloating.
Suggested serving: Coffee has about 150 mg of caffeine per cup. Limit consumption to about 300 mg caffeine per day and consume it once a day, at the time you want to be most alert, TODAY nutrition editor Madelyn Fernstrom says.
5. Dark chocolate
“Dark chocolate is one of the biggest mood boosters,” said Ramsey. Dark chocolate not only provides immediate eating pleasure, but it has a high percentage of cacao, which has more antioxidant power than many other foods.
Suggested serving: 2-4 small squares a day.