When I’m depressed or anxious, I reach for comfort foods.

They tend to be foods high in fat, carbs, and sugars, including pizza, chocolate, and mac and cheese. Those are just a few of my favorites. But more often than not, I am reaching for something that is quick and easy, which is usually processed and unhealthy.

Here are some foods I have used to start changing my eating habits, and that have been proven to boost your mood.

  • Dark Chocolate – Something that may be surprising is that eating at least 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate per day can be beneficial. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants which contribute to a reduction in stress levels. This is especially great news because you can still “have your cake and eat it too.” Chocolate, in moderation, is good for your health and it’s a great comfort food!
  • Avocados, Bananas, Berries, and ApplesAvocados are bursting with nutrients, containing multiple vitamins (B, K, C, E-12), tons of fiber, protein, and healthy fats (omega-3). Avocados also contain tryptophan (which normalizes levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters associated with depression) and folic acid (also known as vitamin B-9) which is sometimes deficient in those who take certain antidepressants. Avocados have quickly become one of my favorite foods to incorporate into my day. I use it in guacamole, on toast, and in salads. On the other hand, Bananas are great, too. They contain B vitamins and amino acids which help your brain produce the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which helps you to stay alert and aids in concentration. Berries and Apples both contain antioxidants which have been shown to decrease levels of depression and reduce inflammation. Apples are also great because they have a lot of fiber in them, which helps stabilize blood sugar, which also reduces mood swings and irritability.
  • Healthy Carbs – If you want to avoid feeling “hangry,” you’re going to want to avoid cutting out too many carbs. Some diets may tell you that cutting carbs is best for weight loss, but it can lead to increased irritability which is already a common symptom of depression. Research has even suggested that carbs can help produce serotonin, which may help those of us who struggle with depression. Examples of healthy carbs are bananas, legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole grains.
  • Tea – If you’re like me, you live on coffee. Coffee has caffeine, and if you’re not careful, you could overdo the caffeine and end up keeping yourself awake all night. Insomnia is already a symptom of depression, and caffeine consumption can worsen that. One to three cups of coffee or caffeinated black or green tea is suggested per day to maintain a healthy balance. It is the general suggestion that you don’t drink caffeine before bed or after 2 p.m. if you plan on getting a full night’s rest. Tea, particularly green, contains antioxidants and an amino acid called theanine. Theanine has a calming effect. Drink five or more cups a day for optimal benefits. Green tea also has been said to aid in weight loss which is an extra perk.
  • Fish – Fish is not my favorite food, I will admit, but it can be great for your health. Fish is full of Omega-3 fatty acids, which may increase dopamine and serotonin in your brain. Fish including tuna, salmon, and herring (among others) contains B vitamins. Vitamin B-12, B-6, and Folic acid all have a role in producing essential brain chemicals that affect your mood.
  • Cut Down on Sugar – Finally, as someone with years of experience with depression, I know that when I’m depressed, I always reach for foods loaded with sugar, for comfort. However, too much sugar can make things worse.One of the main reasons that high sugar intake is linked to depression is because it causes spikes in your blood sugar, which will cause irritability and mood swings. Foods without all the added sugar, such as whole foods (fruits and vegetables with fiber and other nutrients), will stabilize your blood sugar. Something else to consider is that foods full of sugar are also full of “empty calories.” This means that the calories from the sugary foods replace all of the essential nutrients that you should be getting from the foods you’re eating. If you’re eating a high-sugar diet, you’re not getting all of the vitamins and nutrients I mentioned above, that are essential for brain and body function.

The right food won’t instantly heal you, but making some changes to your diet so that it’s more balanced, and eating healthy foods can have a tremendous effect on your overall mood and health. I can attest to this. Since I began eating more whole foods with less sugar, more protein, and more whole grains, I have more energy and I feel stronger every day.

Photo by Michael Stern