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We’ve long known that nutrition plays a key role in physical health. A balanced, nutrient rich diet can help optimize energy and immunity, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, and regulate body weight.

But now, more and more studies are looking at connections between diet and mental health. Certain foods may increase the risk of depression and worsen anxiety, while others can help elevate mood, and positively influence overall happiness.

Some mood-boosting foods are effective due to key nutrients they provide, like magnesium, B vitamins, or omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are known to impact mental health. Others provide bioactive compounds or antioxidants that have been shown to support cognitive function, like curcumin in turmeric, and L-theanine in green tea. Still others work by shifting hormone levels, such as boosting brain levels of the natural “feel good” chemical serotonin.

And our favorite example of a mood-enhancing food is chocolate. One recent study found that among13,000 adults, those who consumed dark chocolate specifically, had a reduced risk of depressive symptoms. In fact, people with the highest dark chocolate intakes had a 57% lower chance of experiencing depressive symptoms compared to those who reported no chocolate consumption.

To learn about your personal food mood connections, start paying attention to how certain foods impact your mental wellness. Instead of a traditional food journal that simply looks at foods and portions, consider keeping a food and mood diary, and track the connections between your eating pattern and emotions. The insights you gain may help you elevate your overall health, improve your everyday quality of life, and lend new meaning to that old phrase, “You are what you eat!”

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.

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