Eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids—essential nutrients not produced in the body—is a key to mood and energy regulation, says Claire LeBrun, a senior nutritionist at the George Washington Medical Faculty Associates. To keep bad moods at bay and energy levels high, add nutty-flavored ground flax seeds to a morning smoothie or yogurt. Two tablespoons contain more than 130 percent of the daily recommended dose of omega-3s. Other good sources are walnuts, fish, spinach, broccoli, and edamame.
When your energy is lagging and your brain seems foggy, a cup or two of a caffeinated drink may be just what the doctor ordered. A 2011 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that women who drank two to three cups of coffee a day reduced their risk of depression by 15 percent. But take note of how much caffeine is in each cup, says LeBrun. If you’re sensitive to it, stick to one or two cups before lunch and try green tea instead. It contains 24 to 40 milligrams of caffeine, while coffee contains as much as 200.
Whole grains are a healthy alternative when you’re craving carbs. Unlike refined grains—found in pasta and white bread—whole grains release sugar into the blood relatively slowly, allowing for a longer energy boost. They’re also rich in folic acid and have been associated with reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Good choices include quinoa, oatmeal, and wild rice.
There’s a reason we turn to sweets when we’re under stress. A study in the Journal of Proteome Research found that adults who ate 11/2 ounces of dark chocolate daily for two weeks showed reduced levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. LeBrun says dark chocolate also contains mild amounts of antioxidants, which rid the body of damaging free radicals. Plus, its low levels of caffeine provide a small energy boost.
Folate, another B vitamin, is important not just for pregnant women; studies have shown that people suffering from depression are usually folate-deficient. One cup of beets contains 34 percent of the daily recommended value of folate. Legumes, lentils, and fortified cereal are also good sources.
Mussels, clams, oysters—shellfish are powerhouses of B12, a water-soluble vitamin essential for a healthy mind. B12 deficiency can be dangerous to one’s mental health, LeBrun says. Symptoms include fatigue, memory loss, and depression. Other good sources of B12 include salmon, low-fat milk, and yogurt.