Matthew Kadey, MSc, RD
Use these eating strategies to help yourself look on the bright side more often.
An investigation in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that people who followed a typical Western diet full of processed or fried foods, refined grains, and sugary items were at a greater risk of suffering depression symptoms. That’s the sad news.
But researchers showed that adhering to a whole foods diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed meats is protective against depression.
Similarly, a study from California’s Loma Linda University found that adults who ate more unhealthy food were more likely to report symptoms of either moderate or severe psychological distress than their peers who consumed a healthier diet.
There is good reason why a slice of Mom’s meatloaf can make you feel like a million bucks. A study published in the journal Psychological Science found that just thinking about eating comfort foods like mac and cheese or a hearty stew can serve as a reminder of people close to us and help remedy a sense of loneliness.
The key is to look for ways to up the nutrition ante of these foods, such as folding handfuls of spinach into lasagna or using whole grain flour when rustling up a chocolate cake.
Life can be harried, which means on-the-go meals are the norm for too many of us. But a regular communal meal can lead to a happier state of mind, even post-meal. It’s all about the social connectedness and face-to-face interaction that occurs when you break bread with family and friends.
A British study found that regularly eating meals alone is one of the biggest single factors contributing to unhappiness. Plan a potluck, set a dinner date reservation, or mark family meal night on the calendar.
More often, we should focus on the purely sensory pleasures of the food we eat—the spicy, aromatic complexity of a divine stew, the silky richness of a square of dark chocolate, the crispy sweetness of a local apple. Doing so will unleash brain chemicals that ramp up the joy we get from eating.
Emerging research suggests it’s worth cheering for not-so-fresh foods more often. For instance, one study showed that those who had a more robust population of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium—microbes found in fermented foods such as kefir and sauerkraut—in their digestive tracts tended to experience fewer symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. Beneficial bacteria may affect mood by sending signals up to the brain. So bug off, bad mood!