The rising rates of depression and other mood disorders parallels the rise of obesity in the U.S. Though no studies have been done to link mood disorders with increased obesity, many agree that there is some correlation.
Food really does have a lot of power," said Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "Use it properly and have a well-balanced diet and you really can improve your mood."
Studies have shown that foods like turkey, whole grain breads, and sugary snacks, have definite effects on the brain, raising and lowering mood-altering chemicals.
Following are some foods that are known to affect a person's mood:
Salmon: Whether it's baked, broiled or raw sashimi, eating salmon and other oily fish like mackerel and sardines can bring a smile to your face.
These fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Best known for their heart-healthy qualities, omega-3s are also good mood boosters. Omega-3 fatty acids help the brain heal by building serotonin in the brain. Some studies have shown that eating plenty of these fats has depression-preventing qualities. You can also find these nourishing oils in flaxseeds and walnuts.
In countries where fish is a main staple, people have lower rates of depression than other countries. The people who live in these countries often have a healthier diet and lifestyle overall, but they also have a higher intake of omega-3s.
Milk: Milk is rich in calcium and the amino acid tryptophan. Beyond its bone-building properties, calcium is known to calm nerves when feeling stressed or anxious. Tryptophan is important for producing serotonin, which elevates mood.
Almonds: Almonds, also rich in calcium and tryptophan, will do the trick when you feel stressed or down.
Coffee: Coffee can boost mood on many levels. In the morning, the aroma of a rich Columbian roast can be enough to make you feel more alert. After two cups, the mind is alert, the eyes are bright, and the tail is bushy.
Of course, the sensory effects of coffee, and other warm beverages, like tea or cocoa, can lift your spirits. But the caffeine is the key ingredient when it comes to how a cup of java can affect your mood. The chemical can induce feelings of happiness and euphoria.
While a small amount of caffeine may help you feel energized and alert, excess amounts of caffeine say, more than four or five cups each day can have effects on their own. The body becomes accustomed to the caffeine boost, and when it doesn't receive it, can go through withdrawal-like symptoms, which can lead to irritability and depression. Drinking caffeine after noon can interfere with sleep patterns, leading to further risk of fatigue and depression.
The effect of caffeine is magnified in people with an existing mental condition. "A patient with bipolar disorder may react positively to coffee when depressed, where as mania could be exacerbated," said Carla Wolper, a nutritionist at the Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Hospital in New York.
The expert verdict: A small amount of caffeine in the morning is permissible, beneficial, even. More than that, however, and your mood is at risk.
Chocolate: Research has shown cocoa beans to be rich in a variety of mood-lifting ingredients. These chemicals are most concentrated in dark chocolate, which is why it is recommended over the milk or white varieties.
"Dark chocolate is high in polyphenols, which are shown to improve cognitive function," said George Pratt, a clinical psychologist in private practice at Scripps Memorial Hospital in LaJolla, Calif. Chocolate also contains phenylethylamines, a neurotransmitter that, in low levels, is associated with depression and in high levels can be associated with schizophrenia.
Phenylethylamines work by releasing endorphins in the brain and promote feelings of attraction and giddiness.
"Both sex and dark chocolate activate the same parts of the brain," Pratt said. "Why not combine them?"
Besides the chemically stimulating properties of chocolate, the sweet flavor and fat content can activate their own pleasure centers in the brain.
Alcohol: Not only is alcohol a depressant, it dulls your central nervous system and impairs important brain functions. But that's not the only thing alcohol can dull.
"Sugar and alcohol elate momentarily while they shoot excessive sugar into the system, but the resultant insulin response drives the blood sugar to dive low, creating brain and ultimate mood changes such as anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and/or sadness," said Adele Puhn, a clinical nutritionist who has written extensively about diet.
When taken responsibly, a small quantity of alcohol can have calming, sedative effects. But while a glass of red wine with dinner may have a soothing effect after a hard day at work, downing martinis or scotch will do the opposite.
Brazil Nuts: Brazil nuts are rich in the mineral selenium. Selenium is essential for maintaining a good mood and may prevent depression. These rich nuts are also a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc, which can help calm stressed nerves and keep you alert.
Whey: Whey is often sold as whey protein, a powdered supplement found in health stores. The mood benefits of whey come from the high concentration of tryptophan, that essential amino acid that gets converted to serotonin in the brain and lifts your mood.
Spinach: Spinach is a potent green. Part of the family that includes kale and chard, spinach is a rich source of several minerals that are good for anxiety and depression. Green leafy vegetables are also high in folic acid, low levels of which have been linked to depression in several studies.
People with anxiety might benefit from a cup of cooked spinach, according to Trudy Scott, a nutritionist and spokesperson for the National Association of Nutrition Professionals. Spinach contains magnesium, a mineral with relaxing and calming effects.