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Happy Meals

Got seasonal blues? Five mood-boosting foods can help.

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sisters, aarp, food
Claire Benoist/The Licensing Project
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The notion of getting comfort from food isn’t just an excuse to justify eating a pan of mac ‘n’ cheese. Researchers are finding links between the foods we eat and the way we feel, says Karinn Glover, a psychiatrist and the director of adult behavioral health at Montefiore Medical Group in the Bronx, N.Y.

But the cheesy, creamy, salty and high-calorie foods we tend to reach for when stressed don’t help our health. Instead, make the healthy, delicious choices that follow part of your regular diet to help decrease those down moments that have you craving junk.

Leafy greens

Greens such as spinach and chard are packed with magnesium, which has been linked to a reduction in depressive symptoms. Following the Mediterranean diet, with its focus on fruits and vegetables, can also lower our risk of depression. Glover adds that the fiber from veggies will aid your digestion. “Being bloated is a mood,” says Glover. “Everybody feels lousy when they're constipated and bloated.”

Dark chocolate

A study from California’s Loma Linda University found that dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao can lower stress and lift your mood. Cacao contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that are also good for our brains and cardiovascular health. A little goes a long way, cautions Glover. Limit yourself to one or two squares.


Whether it’s pinto, navy, black, kidney or great northern, beans are an excellent source of folate, a type of B vitamin that may boost your mood. Researchers have long noted that depressed people often have a deficiency in folate. Cook up a pot of chili. Or enjoy some peas and rice — black-eyed and pigeon peas are also loaded with folate.


Fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha contain certain types of bacteria that help control the inflammation in our guts, which in turn can lessen symptoms of depression. To control the amount of sugar added to your yogurt, bypass the flavored varieties. Instead choose plain yogurt and dress it up with chopped fresh fruit.


A deficiency of omega-3 poly-unsaturated fatty acids can cause depressive symptoms. So a diet that includes regular helpings of foods rich in omega-3s can have a balancing effect. In addition to salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and lake trout are also good sources of omega-3s.

Now that you know how to put happiness on your plate, steer clear of these foods linked to down moods:

Sugar: It triggers inflammation and is associated with higher rates of depression.

Margarine: Researchers from the University of California San Diego linked trans fats to irritability and aggression, making butter (in moderation) possibly a better choice.

Fast food: The convenience comes at a cost. Researchers from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Navarra, both in Spain, found that those who eat fast food on a regular basis are 51 percent likelier to develop depression than those who don’t.

Maintaining a food log can help you notice eating patterns and how they impact your mood, says Glover. “Taking better control of what you eat can help you to feel like your body is on your side rather than working against you.”