These feel-good foods are better alternatives than inhaling a sleeve of ultraprocessed crackers.
I get it. You’re stressed. And you want a bag of Doritos.
My svelte outdoorsy friend who hasn’t eaten crackers in decades just texted that she consumed a whole comforting cylindrical packet of them in one sitting. But we’re all older and wiser, and we know that ultraprocessed foods only make us happy for about 15 minutes. Then comes the crash.
With the lockdown, everybody’s stressed. In the absence of the gym, organized sports, or even access to the beach, our instinct is to turn to food (read “Self-Regulation Skills in a Crisis: Four Tools to Calm Down Now” for more on self-care during lockdown). We’re not wrong, exactly. But here are a few foods that could help you feel calm, cool, and somewhat collected—for the long term.
- Berries. Multiple studies have shown that a diet heavy in fruit and vegetables protects against depression. Berries are particularly good at boosting mood; many of them, including raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries, are high in vitamin C, which can inhibit production of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Avocados. This creamy millennial favorite supplies folate, which can help regulate anxiety; and omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for brain health and mood.
- Swiss chard. This leafy, gorgeous green is super-versatile and, like other leafy greens, Swiss chard is chock-full of magnesium, an essential mineral the body needs for stress regulation.
- Whole grains. Fiber sounds boring, but it’s actually one of the foundational building blocks of gut health, which, as we now know, is one of the foundational building blocks of emotional well-being. Whole grains and products made with whole grains—wheat, barley, oats—all contain lots of gut-friendly fiber.
- Eggs. Enter the protein situated at the intersection of easy and delicious. Eggs are full of omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and magnesium—all mood boosters—plus choline, a nutrient important to the production of neurotransmitters.
- Coffee. We’ve all been drinking coffee to keep ourselves productive, but did you know that we may have been relying on it to lift our spirits too? Recent studies have shown that low doses of caffeine can be an all-day mood-enhancer.
- Nuts. Walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts: Here’s another delicious and easy protein that keeps for ages. Consumption of nuts has been linked to higher levels of serotonin metabolites (serotonin being the happiness chemical in our brains).
- Mussels. Mussels may seem complicated to prepare, but are actually deliciously simple. Among all the shellfish, they’ve been called a champion “brain food” for their super-high vitamin B-12 content. Only 3 ounces of mussels provides 340 percent of recommended daily B-12 intake, a vitamin that’s crucial for brain health and mood steadiness. Mussels are also high in DHA, an omega-3 that the brain relies on for clarity and smooth functioning.
- Salmon, mackerel, etc. Yes, you’ve heard to eat fatty fish on repeat. But it’s worth repeating—not just because fatty fish types are delicious and good for you, but because eating them will help you stay balanced. They’re loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, essential fats your body can’t make, but needs to function. Recent research suggests that fatty fish can also help alleviate symptoms of depression and other mood disorders.
- Dark chocolate. In 2019 yummy news, scientists confirmed that people who eat dark chocolate, which contains psychoactive ingredients that mimic cannabinoids, are quite a bit less likely to be depressed than people who have had no chocolate.
- Fermented foods. Think: yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso. A little bit of funky fermented food, rich in probiotics, not only adds depth to a dish, but can do wonders for gut function. And what’s good for gut function is good for brain function and mood.
- Bananas. Ever been told to have a banana before bedtime? Bananas are a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid used in the production of serotonin and essential to smooth, relaxed sleep. The popular fruit also contains energy-supporting B vitamins.
Mix and match your way to bliss. These recipes are easy to cook, delicious to eat, and contain two or more of the mood-boosting foods above.
Avocado sauerkraut toast: It may be hard to imagine how avocado and sauerkraut would go together. But they do—in a delicious power snack that transports you to the cafe (minus the $9 bill).
Yogurt parfait: This one’s so simple it’s almost not a recipe, but during these times, very simple plus very good is a win-win. This beautiful layered parfait marries probiotic yogurt with the blues-busting properties of red and blue berries.
Kimchi fried rice: This colorful skillet of healthy, spicy, jousting flavors may lift your mood just by it looks and taste—but it also contains eggs and kimchi, two champions in the fight against the blahs. For a vegetarian take, leave out the bacon.
Miso salmon: Miso (fermented Japanese soybean paste) adds profound depth of flavor to many proteins and vegetables, but one of its favorite companions is mood-lifting salmon.
Chocolate banana bread: This recipe combines the therapeutically hands-on aspects of baking with chocolatey, “bananary,” nutty results that will fill your home with the scent of something gorgeous in the oven that will leave you smiling and satisfied.