Consider food’s purely sensory pleasures—the cool, sweet slip of silky ice cream on your tongue; the spicy, aromatic complexity of a divine curry; the rich, crackly crunch of buttered popcorn. Along with a meal’s flavor and mouthfeel, though, brain chemicals affect the joy you get from eating—even before you lift your fork, says Alex Korb, a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at UCLA. “Your brain releases dopamine in anticipation of eating good food, and that anticipation makes eating even more pleasurable,” he says. What’s more, certain foods, like these 16, are blessed with compounds that lift your spirits.
Everyone knows bananas are full of potassium, but what you may not know is that they also contain tryptophan, a brain chemical that helps to regulate mood, according to Ara DerMarderosian, University of the Sciences. Bananas are also a good source of B vitamin folate, and having low levels of the vitamin has been linked to depression.
Certain flavors in berries have a chemical similarity to valproic acid, which is a prescription mood-stabilizing drug, according to research conducted by Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies. The flavonoid anthocyanidin found in berries also reduces inflammation, which has been associated with increased rates of depression.
It’s with good reason quinoa is having a moment right now. A flavanoid found in quinoa, quercetin, has been shown to have anti-depressant effects, according to a 2010 study in the Journal of Neuropharmacology.
Low levels of zinc have been linked to anxiety, according to a study in Nutrition and Metabolic Insights. To keep yourself cool and calm, get your fill of foods rich in zinc, like oysters.
Choc-o-holics, rejoice! Dark chocolate is a good source of antioxidants, but it’s also been found to reduce the stress hormone cortisol, according to a study in the Journal of Proteome Research.
Salmon is chock full of omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve mood and fight depression, according to a study in the journal of Pharmacological Research. (Bonus: Healthy fats keep your hair shiny. And good hair is enough to induce happiness in our book).
It’s time to turn up the heat. The yellow spice, most known for its use in East Asian cuisine, contains curcumin, which enhances mood and fights depression, according to ethnobotanist Chris Kilham.
A Japanese study found that psychological stress was lower in individuals who drank five or more cups of green tea per day. (But I mean, that’s a lot of green tea).
An apple a day really does keep the doctor away. Eating fruits and vegetables, like apples, produces a calming effect, creates more energy, and increases overall happiness, according to the British Journal of Health Psychology.
There’s a reason why Popeye ate it. Spinach contains folic acid, which alleviates depression and reduces fatigue, according to the Journal of Physiology.
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to low-mood depression, according to a study from the University of Melbourne, so start sautéing those mushrooms, because they are surprisingly high in vitamin D.
Don’t switch to decaf just yet. Coffee consumption has been linked to lower levels of depression, according to JAMA Internal Medicine.
According to a study by the United States Department of Agriculture, low magnesium levels are linked to lower energy. Chomp on magneisum rich foods, like beans, to make sure you don’t fizzle out too quickly each day.
The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA found that eating walnuts can improve brain function. Contributing factors include walnuts’ high antioxidant content, vitamins and minerals, and that they contain a large amount of alpha-linolenic acid, a plant based omega-3.
Vitamin C increases collagen production, reducing your chance of a dry, lined face, according to a study by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And not worrying about your appearance definitely ups your happy factor.
Eggs are high in choline, which helps boost memory, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. But there’s a catch — choline is found in the yolk, so you might want to rethink those egg white omelettes.