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5 Healthy Mood Nutrients To Add To Your Next Meal (Plus A Recipe To Try Them In)

You are what you eat as the saying goes - and that holds especially true when it comes to our mood. Nutrients found in our food fuel our brains. They affect blood sugar fluctuations, how our brain works, and ultimately our mood. If you’re looking to pump up your at-home meals with nutrients to support a healthy mood, here are some key nutrients to start with and where to find them in food.

1. Magnesium

This essential major mineral plays an important role in over 300 biological processes in the body, including moderating brain receptors that support mood.1,2,3 Low levels of magnesium are associated with decreased mood and low energy.2,3 Not only that, but half of Americans don’t consume enough magnesium and it was listed as underconsumed in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.4,5 If you’re looking to make magnesium a regular guest in your meals, here are some great places to start:

  • Oat bran cereal
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Avocados
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Lima beans
  • Chickpeas

Read more about minerals

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown by thousands of clinical trials to have a range of health benefits for all age groups, including their roles in supporting a healthy mood.6 There are different omega-3s, but when it comes to mood, we’re focusing on two of them: DHA and EPA.

DHA is a major structural component of your brain (gray matter) and the retina of your eyes. It helps keep your cell membranes stay flexible and nimble. EPA helps with the processes and pathways of the brain. Research shows omega 3 fatty acid supplements (with at least 1000 mg EPA) can help support a healthy mood.6 It also seems as though consistently taking omega-3s may offer greater mood benefits.6 Most Americans are not getting enough of these vital omega-3 fatty acids, so find some fish options you love and get creative with ways to add these essential fatty acids to your meals:7

  • Wild salmon
  • Albacore tuna
  • Lake trout
  • Sardines

Read more about Omega-3s

B Vitamins In The Brain

B vitamins are hardworking nutrients that hold many big jobs. They help convert the foods you eat into the cellular energy you need to help keep your body functioning throughout the day. But certain B vitamins also play a key role in helping support the processes involved with mood. Folate, vitamin B6 and B12 all help the formation and function of neurotransmitters, the messengers between brain cells and the body which help regulate mood.8 Studies show low levels of these B vitamins may affect mood, so we need to make sure we are getting at least the recommended amounts every day.8

3. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 helps your body make serotonin, a neurochemical that influences mood.9 While most Americans get enough vitamin B6, shortfalls tend to increase as we get older.10 Other factors like alcohol intake and medications, such as oral contraceptives, may impact vitamin B6 status as well.9 Here are some delicious foods to include in your next meal if you’re looking to boost your vitamin B6 intake:

  • Wild salmon
  • Russet potatoes with skin, baked
  • Turkey, light meat (cooked)
  • Avocados
  • Chicken, light meat without skin (cooked)
  • Spinach (cooked)
  • Bananas
  • Plums (dried and pitted) 

4. Folate (Vitamin B9)

As the B vitamin that’s best known for fetal brain development, we know folate (found synthetically as folic acid) is critical in establishing a healthy brain and nervous system from day one. Folate’s important role in brain health continues at every step of our life, and this includes its functions involved in mood support.8 While most Americans get enough folate or folic acid in their diet, there are certain periods in life where adequate folic acid intake is critical, such as women of childbearing age and during pregnancy.11,12 Also, alcohol intake impacts folate metabolism. Here are some tasty foods to consider when adding vitamin B9 to your next meal:

  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach
  • Lima beans
  • Orange juice

5. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is known as a key player in cellular energy, but it also plays a role in the formation of red blood cells (which transport oxygen throughout the body). Vitamin B12 works closely with folate in supporting neurotransmitters (like serotonin), our mood-regulating messengers.8 While most healthy Americans get enough B12, vegans and vegetarians may fall short because vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal foods. Vitamin B12 absorption may decrease as we age and factors like medications that reduce stomach acid, or certain gastrointestinal conditions may also increase your risk for low vitamin B12.13 Here are a few food options for increasing your intake of this essential nutrient:

  • Crab
  • Beef
  • Salmon
  • Milk
  • Turkey
  • Brie cheese
  • Eggs

Read more about vitamins

A Recipe Packed with Mood Supporting Nutrients

Roasted Salmon With Balsamic Spinach14

Deep ocean water salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as providing vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. Spinach is packed with folate and magnesium. Here’s a delicious recipe that includes both of these healthy mood supporting foods.

Total Time: 30 mins
Serving Size: 4

Ingredients

  • 3 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 salmon fillets (6 ounces each)
  • 1 ½ teaspoon reduced-sodium seafood seasoning
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • Dash of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 10 cups of fresh baby spinach (about 10 ounces)
  • 6 small tomatoes, seeded and cut into ½ inch pieces
  • ½ cup of balsamic vinegar 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rub 1 teaspoon olive oil over both sides of salmon; sprinkle with seafood seasoning and pepper. Place in a greased 15x10 baking pan. Roast for 10–12 minutes, or until fish just begins to flake easily with a fork.
  2. While fish is roasting, place remaining oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes into a 6-quart stockpot. Heat over medium-low heat until garlic is softened (about 3–4 minutes). Increase heat to medium-high, add spinach. Cook and stir until spinach is wilted (about 3–4 minutes). Stir in tomatoes and heat through. Divide among four dishes.
  3. In a small saucepan, bring vinegar to boil. Cook until vinegar is reduced by half and becomes a balsamic glaze (about 2–3 minutes). Remove from heat.
  4. Place salmon over spinach mixture. Drizzle with balsamic glaze

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This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.

References

  1. Oregon State University. “Magnesium.” Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Accessed on: April 30, 2020. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/magnesium
  2. Serefko, A et al. Magnesium in depression. Pharmacol Rep. 2013; 65(3): 547-54. Accessed on: April 30, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23950577
  3. Eby, G. et al. “Magnesium and major depression.” Eds: Vink, R. and Nechifor, M. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System [Internet]. Adelaide (AU): University of Adelaide Press; 2011. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507265/
  4. Fulgoni VL 3rd, et al. Foods, fortificants, and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients? J Nutr. 2011; 141(10): 1847–1854. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3174857/
  5. S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” 2015. 8th ed.; U.S. Department of Agriculture. Accessed on: April 30, 2020. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines
  6. Firth, J et al. The efficacy and safety of nutrient supplements in the treatment of mental disorders: a meta-review of meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials. World Psychiatry. 2019; 18(3): 245–372. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31496103
  7. Papanikolaou, Y et al. U.S. adults are not meeting recommended levels for fish and omega-3 fatty acid intake: results of an analysis using observational data from NHANES 2003–2008. Nutr J. 2014; 13(31). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24694001
  8. Kennedy D. B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review. Nutrients. 2016; 8(2): 68. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4772032/
  9. Oregon State University. “Vitamin B6.” Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Accessed on: May 5, 2020. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-B6
  10. Blumberg, J et al. Impact of frequency of multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement intake on nutritional adequacy and nutrient deficiencies in U.S. adults. Nutrients. 2017; 9(8): 1–8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28792457
  11. Oregon State University. “Folate.” Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Accessed on: May 5, 2020. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/folate
  12. Saldanha, L et al. Is Nutrient Content and Other Label Information for Prescription Prenatal Supplements Different from Nonprescription Products? J Acad Nutr Diet. 2017; 117(9): 1429–1436. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5573647/
  13. Oregon State University. “Vitamin B12.” Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center. Accessed on: May 5, 2020. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-B12
  14. Taste of Home. “Roasted Salmon with Sautéed Balsamic Spinach.” Accessed on: May 5, 2020. https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/roasted-salmon-with-sauteed-balsamic-spinach/