As a college student, stress eating is a regular part of life. Calories and sugar content fly over my head when it's 2 am, and I'm stu(dying) for an upcoming organic chemistry exam. Without thinking, my hands reach for an all too tempting piece of chocolate because I know it will keep me going. In fact, whenever I'm feeling gloomy or stressed I find myself turning to a good meal. So, what is it about food that gets my taste buds jumping and the good mood pumping?
It turns out, it's all in the brain. Certain foods can actually alter the way our brains act by enhancing the flow of four very special molecules – dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. These happiness hormones are naturally released by the body, but dietary choices can boost the amount we produce. Next time you're feeling blue, try eating some of these mood boosting foods.
Bananas are a great source of more than just potassium, they're also loaded with tyrosine. This amino acid plays a crucial role in dopamine production, so more tyrosine = more dopamine = happier you.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, albacore tuna, and cod are packed with omega-3. These fatty acids are essential to improving heart health, but they can also help treat depression by stimulating the production of dopamine. In fact, studies have shown a relationship between omega-3 deficiency and a decrease in the level and functioning of dopamine. Salmon also has a high level of tryptophan, an amino acid important for synthesizing serotonin, so you can't go wrong.
3. Nuts and Seeds
You'll go nuts for nuts after learning how abundant they are in tryptophan. They will also keep you feeling full for longer because of their high (healthy) fat and protein content. Next time you need a snack, put down those chips and opt for some trail mix and you're guaranteed to feel happier and healthier.
4. Dark Chocolate
There is a reason that decadent chocolate lava cake always seems to melt away your sorrows. Chocolate, especially dark, is responsible for stimulating the production and release of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine because it's full of tryptophan and phenylethylamine. That's enough to convince me to eat more chocolate, not too mention its other health benefits.
Cheese and other dairy products are not only great sources of tryptophan but they also provide the body with an influx of tyrosine. An increase in dopamine levels will keep you feeling motivated, and serotonin can boost your feelings of importance.
Hummus is the most common way to ingest chickpeas, which are not only full of tryptophan, but also phytoestrogen, a plant-based type of estrogen. Though too much estrogen can actually be harmful to the body, just enough can help promote the production of oxytocin.
If you rely on coffee to kick-start your day, you're not alone. People commonly find that drinking coffee improves their mood. According to Susan Roberts, professor of nutrition and psychiatry at Tufts University, it's because caffeine encourages dopamine release. The pleasant feeling you get from caffeine is linked to the way dopamine acts on the brain, similar to the way other drugs work. So, it's not entirely wrong to say that "caffeine high" is a real thing.
Lean proteins, such as chicken and turkey, are a good way to increase your intake of tryptophan and tyrosine. They are also extremely easy to incorporate into any meal and taste good almost any way you cook it — sandwiches, salads, or simply paired with rice and vegetables.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there is a connection between vitamin B-12 and depression. Low levels of B-12 have actually been found to decrease serotonin levels because B vitamins play a role in the production of the hormone. Luckily, eggs are both tasty and filled with vitamin B-12. And as if that's not enough, they are also tyrosine-rich.
10. Green Tea
Green tea is chock full of antioxidants and have incredible health benefits. Not only does it aid in weight loss by boosting your metabolism, but it can also reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. As if those weren't reasons enough to immediately brew yourself a cup, a study from the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology found that green tea also contains polyphenols, which protect dopamine cells from damage.
These are just a few food choices that can naturally boost your mood, but of course, if all else fails nothing says “pick-me-up” like a good slice of pizza. Or a “happiness pizza,” according to Pizza Hut. They’re hip.