Can Food Actually Lift Your Mood When You’re Feeling Down?

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There’s a reason we call certain foods “comfort foods” ― they have the power to temporarily elevate our spirits. But is there any science behind certain ingredients’ ability to affect our emotions?

“The term ‘comfort foods’ is code for foods that spike your blood sugar and dopamine levels, which can bring a quick, temporary sense of relief when you are feeling upset, anxious or overwhelmed,” said Dr. Georgia Ede, a board-certified psychiatrist and author of ”Change Your Diet, Change Your Mind.”

But ironically, these foods ― which are rich in refined carbohydrates ― are the ones that “drive that emotional discomfort in the first place,” according to Ede.

But there is a category of nutrients that can positively impact people’s dispositions and are scientifically proven to regulate the hormones that affect your mood.

Foods that are rich in mood-regulating tryptophan

According to experts, nuts and red meat are two of the foods that are richest in tryptophan, therefore directly related to mood-regulating properties.

Nuts in particular, Ede noted, contain more tryptophan than most other plant foods.

“One ounce of cashews or pistachios contains about 75 mg of tryptophan,” Ede said, specifically comparing the numbers to those associated with turkey, another food connected with the amino acid.

“Chicken and turkey contain tryptophan, which is a building block for serotonin,” Dasgupta said. “Eating chicken or turkey could help your brain produce more serotonin, potentially lifting your mood and making you feel better. Think of it like a natural mood booster.”

Interestingly enough, chicken soup is often referred to as the quintessential comfort food, a rare one that actually contains tryptophan.

“Chicken soup is a classic comfort food that brings up associations of positive relationships and makes us feel less lonely,” Dasgupta said.