There are just some foods that make us happy. Whether we love their taste or because they remind of us of good times, it’s no secret that food can bring comfort. However, those comfort foods are oftentimes unhealthy snacks and sweets. They give us a quick blip of joy that’s gone moments after we’re done eating. When you’re feeling stressed, you need foods with powerful nutrients that lift your mood and energize your day.
We’ve scanned the research and put together this list of nine foods that have been shown to boost mood and prevent stress, so you’re ready to deal with whatever comes your way. We’ve also included fresh and fun ideas for enjoying them. Another reason to be happy? Each of these ingredients helps you stay on track to your weight loss goal!
If you’re feeling stressed, add these nine happy foods to your shopping list ASAP:
Why: Eggs yolks are one of the few food sources of vitamin D, says Healthline. According to nutritional research, published in Nutrients, studies show that vitamin D deficiency is correlated with an eight to 14 percent increase in depression. However, eggs come with more than just a healthy supply of vitamin D. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that one large egg provides you with about six grams of protein that fuels you up for a productive day.
Try: Skinny Avocado Egg Salad Sandwich is rich and creamy yet low in calories. It’s easy to whip up in minutes so you can have a satisfying Flex lunch that doesn’t weigh you down.
Why: Salmon, albacore tuna and other fatty fish are rich in two types of omega-3 fatty acids—docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These nutrients can “travel through the brain cell membrane and interact with mood-related molecules inside the brain,” says Harvard Health Publishing. “They also have anti-inflammatory actions that may help relieve depression.”
Try: 3-Step Tuna Patties are loaded with protein and make a hearty entrée or sandwich filler.
Why: Nutrients often work together in our bodies. For instance, calcium helps us process vitamin D. That may help explain why women who eat a diet high in calcium are less likely to be depressed than those who don’t, according to a study, published in Nutrition Research and Practices. Calcium is also essential for regulating metabolism, which affects our energy levels throughout the day. Plain nonfat Greek yogurt—a PowerFuel that’s high in protein and low in calories—gives you 250 milligrams of calcium in a one eight-ounce serving, says the USDA.
Try: Chunky Monkey Yogurt Parfait brings together high-fiber banana slices, peanut butter, nuts and low-sugar cacao nibs to create a dessert that satisfies your cravings without hindering your weight loss progress.
Why: People who eat foods rich in magnesium may have a decreased risk of depression when compared to people who don’t eat enough of this essential mineral, conclude the authors of a study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. They theorize that magnesium helps to regulate certain systems within the brain that control stress response. So, if you’re feeling stressed, enjoy one cup of cooked black beans with your healthy meal. According to the USDA, this contains 120 milligrams of magnesium. Beans of all kinds are also high in fiber, so you feel full for hours after eating them.
Try: You get plenty of magnesium and a sweet treat when you make a batch of our Four-Step Black Bean Brownies. Don’t mention the beans and these rich, chocolaty bites are sure to bring a smile to just about every face in your household.
Why: Beets are a natural source of betaine, a micronutrient that supports your brain’s production of serotonin, says a report, published in the Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare. According to Healthline, beets also supply you with folic acid or Folate. “In addition to anemia and other health problems, folate deficiency may lead to the development of major depressive disorder (MDD),” says Psychology Today.
Try: Roasted Rosemary Beets and Carrots marry the earthy sweet flavors (and appetizing colors) of two fiber-rich root vegetables into one filling side dish.
Why: All varieties of mushrooms are rich in tryptophan, says Mycoscience. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that your body needs to make a sufficient supply of serotonin. “Low brain serotonin levels are associated with poor memory and depressed mood,” according to an article, published in the journal Nutrients. Mushrooms are also high in fiber and low in calories. Plus, they’re a non-starchy vegetable so you can eat as much of them as you want while staying on track to your weight loss goal.
Try: Check out our quick video on making Simple Stuffed Mushrooms, a snack that can turn any stressful day into a party.
Why: The tender green spears are another great vegetable source of tryptophan, says Health.com. According to Healthline, asparagus also provides you with plenty of folic acid. “Many studies, going back to the 1960s, show an elevated incidence of folate deficiency in patients with depression,” says the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience.
Try: Grilled Asparagus Caesar Salad features the zesty flavors of Parmesan cheese, Dijon mustard and garlic on top of the smoky grilled spears, giving those familiar flavors a tasty new setting.
Why: Flavonoids are phytonutrients (meaning they are found only in plants) that give blueberries their deep color. People who drank blueberry juice as part of a study reported more positive changes in their mood than those who drank a placebo, says the journal Nutrients. The researchers theorize, “flavonoid consumption enhances cerebral blood flow, boosting executive functioning, and thus helping to inhibit cognitive features (i.e., rumination) that maintain depression.”
Try: Blueberry Green Tea Smoothie makes a filling breakfast or snack that’s loaded with valuable nutrients and naturally sweet flavor.
9. Dark Chocolate
Why: Science has confirmed what you probably already know: chocolate improves your mood. “Cocoa polyphenols (micronutrients) enhance positive mood states,” says researchers in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. Researchers believe that the polyphenols stimulate activity in the brain regions associated with pleasure and reward and boost serotonin. Of course, dark chocolate often comes with fats and sugar, so you need to limit your consumption while stressed to keep from derailing your weight loss progress.
Try: The Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Nut Bar from Nutrisystem hits all the high notes for a snack—salty, sweet and crunchy—while keeping the calories and fat content to a minimum. Our healthy snacks can help you with your meal prepping and planning, eliminating another reason to be stressed. Plus, it has eight grams of fiber and six grams of protein, so it takes down hunger pangs while filling you up with rich, dark chocolate.
*Always speak with your doctor if you’re feeling overly stressed, sad or anxious.