Health

How to replace mood busters in your diet with mood boosters

Oct. 11, 2013 at 4:20 PM ET

Close up studio shot of man holding almonds
Tetra Images / Getty Images/Tetra images RF
Nuts such as almonds are high in the mineral magnesium, which is involved in producing serotonin.

Does the thought of going out for an ice cream sundae make you giddy? Yeah, it gets the best of us. It might be hard to imagine, because the thought of a sweet treat can instantly lift your spirits, but junk food may actually contribute to depression.

The evidence is mounting — many studies have linked junk food consumption with depression, and as researchers continue to study mood and nutrition, there are likely to be more. So, doesn't now seem like a good time to start replacing the mood-busting junk in your diet with mood-boosting natural foods?

In September 2013, Anu Ruusunen of the University of Eastern Finland presented an analysis of the population-based Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study as her nutritional epidemiology doctoral thesis. Her research indicated that participants who ate a diet of vegetables, berries, fruit, whole-grains, fish, poultry and low-fat cheese were less likely to have symptoms of depression, and were also less likely to be diagnosed with depression during the follow-up period, compared with those who ate an unhealthy diet that included sausages, hot dogs, sugary desserts, processed foods and snacks.

These results fall in line with the results of a study published in March 2012 in the journal Public Health Nutrition, which indicated that people who ate junk food were 51 percent more likely to show signs of depression. The more junk food they consumed, the more likely they were to feel depressed 

Related: 6 foods that are good for your brain

It's important to note that these studies show an association, but don't prove that a cause-and-effect relationship exists between junk food and depression. And it's not clear how the link may work — it could be that people who already have symptoms of depression are more likely to eat junk food.

But let's shift gears from focusing on the negative side of things and focus on how to turn around our diets, and potentially our moods.

Consider trading in your junk food addiction and adopting these mood-boosting habits:

  • Get more B vitamins: Studies have suggested that foods rich in B vitamins may keep depression and other mental health problems at bay. You'll find an ample supply of this vitamin group in spinach, fish, beans and lean poultry.
  • Indulge in dark chocolateDark chocolate is super indulgent, or so it seems, so it is likely to satisfy your cravings for something not-so-healthy. But chocolate, as long as it isn't loaded with sugars and fillers, can actually be a health food. And according to the book "A Chocolate a Day: Keeps the Doctor Away" (HarperCollins, 2003) by Dr. John Ashton, the phenylethylamine found in chocolate has a stimulating effect on the brain. Now, there's a mood booster most of us can get behind.
  • Go nuts: Most nuts are high in the mineral magnesium, which is involved in producing serotonin (also known as the "feel good" brain chemical). Nuts that are high in magnesium include cashews, almonds and peanuts.
  • Take vitamin D supplements: A 2011 study in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that a correlation between higher blood serum levels of vitamin D and a reduced risk of depression. The body makes this vitamin from UV rays, but most people don't spend enough time in the sun, and when they do, sunblock often blocks the good rays along with the harmful UV rays.

Healthy Bites appears weekly on LiveScience. Deborah Herlax Enos is a certified nutritionist and a health coach and weight loss expert in the Seattle area with more than 20 years of experience. Read more tips on her blog, Health in a Hurry!

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