You’ve had a nasty breakup, had a bad day at work, or are simply too tired to prepare. You’re looking for something to make you feel better. So you go for… a salad?
Most likely not. If happiness is what you seek, though, those leafy greens are vastly superior to a tub of ice cream or a bowl of mac and cheese.
Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist, chef, and director of nutritional and metabolic psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, remarked, “You could have an initial good feeling, but comfort foods are eventually uncomfortable for the brain.”
Ice cream and high-carb foods make you feel good because they transfer tryptophan to the brain, according to Naidoo, who published a book in 2020 on the links between food, mood, and the brain.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that aids in the production of serotonin, a happy hormone. However, that nice sensation can become addictive, leading to a desire for items that will depress the mood while also raising blood sugar. Inflammation is triggered by foods high in sugar, refined wheat, or saturated fats, which are closely associated with depression.
Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, seafood, and whole grains, on the other hand, may reduce your risk of depression by reducing inflammation. According to a meta-analysis of 18 research papers published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2018, for every 100 grams of fruit or vegetables taken, the risk of depression drops by up to 5%.
Salads, on the other hand, do not produce an immediate pleasure boost, so individuals do not associate them with good feelings. And we aren’t taught to conceive of them in that light, according to Naidoo. “Doctors don’t tell you to eat your leafy green vegetables because they’ll make you happier in the long run. People must comprehend why they should eat a colorful salad. “
Another reason individuals don’t opt for healthful meals to boost their mood is that they “don’t necessarily eat for health,” according to Michel Lucas, an associate professor at Laval University School of Medicine in Quebec City’s department of social and preventive medicine.
He explained, “Eating is a social act that is tied to our cultural and emotional memories.” Foods that evoke childhood memories, for example, might provide comfort, whether or not they are good for our bodies.
“We often forget that eating is a pleasurable experience,” said Lucas, who recommended that people eat a wider variety of fresh, complete foods and experiment with cooking to find new sensations and experiences by utilizing spices that enhance food’s natural qualities.
He stated, “We need to have a different relationship with the food we eat.” If you enjoy lemon, you’ll notice that genuine lemon zest tastes nothing like artificial lemon juice. Avoid the ultra-processed as well as the experience of it. “
According to Lucas, the best way to increase your consumption of mood-boosting nutrients is to eat whole meals and follow a plant-based diet. However, it is acceptable to consume something unhealthy sometimes. “What matters most is what you consume on a daily basis.”
Dietary adjustments should be implemented gradually, according to Naidoo. Begin by reducing your intake of foods that contribute to depression. These include junk foods and fast foods prepared with processed vegetable oils, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and foods with added sugars, as well as processed, highly refined foods with little fiber.
“Then put in fiber-rich foods and foods high in folate,” she said, referring to an essential nutrient that has been known to help with depression. Dark, leafy greens, fruit, nuts, beans, peas, seafood, and other meals provide these nutrients, which are “extremely crucial to helping your mood.” Folates are abundant in spinach, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus.
Many spices, such as ginger, turmeric, and black pepper, are also anti-inflammatory, according to her. Omega-3 fatty acids present in fatty fish and flaxseed have the same effect.
Just don’t anticipate instant results, according to Naidoo.
This isn’t going to be a quick repair. It’s not going to happen overnight, “she stated. “Turmeric will not improve your mood if you consume it only once. However, if you include this into your lifestyle, cook with garlic on a daily basis, add a little spice, eat more vegetables, beans, seeds, and nuts, you will notice a difference over time.