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Natural Cures for Depression, Stress and Bad Mood

If your first instinct is to head to the kitchen after a bad day, you're on the right track. Reach for the wrong snack, though, and you could be undermining your efforts to cheer up.

Although the pint of Chunky Monkey or bag of Double Stuf Oreos may call you like a siren song, steer clear of traditional comfort foods if you really want to banish your bad mood. In fact, when you look into the science, most comfort foods aren't comforting at all. Though no one food can permanently cure a case of the blues, there are a number of healthy options that have been scientifically proven to alter brain chemistry and hormones, counteracting crabby moods and easing depressive symptoms. Mother Nature's comfort foods will do more for your mind and body than any packaged or processed version ever could—trust us! Next time you need to self-medicate, reach one of our picks below. They all do double duty, improving both your mood and waistline.

Bell Peppers

red bell peppers

Today's been rough—we've all been there. Though downing an entire sleeve of cookies to self-soothe may seem like a solid plan, you'd be better off noshing on some bell pepper. Before you roll your eyes, hear us out: Green and red peppers are two of the most potent sources of vitamin C in the produce aisle. In fact, a cup of the veggie has over three times the recommended daily allowance of the nutrient! Though vitamin C is best known for its immune-boosting properties, it's also great at axing those "I hate my life" feelings by fighting off free radicals and lingering stress (which can also trigger fat storage). Dip slices of bell peppers in hummus or add the veggie to a stir-fry or salad to reap the benefits.

Wild Alaskan Salmon

wild salmon
If you're feeling down in the dumps—or want to avoid feeling that way—regularly consuming a fatty fish like salmon is a smart idea. The tasty catch is loaded with omega-3, a mood-boosting fatty acid that may make it easier for serotonin—a chemical that makes you feel happier—to pass through cell membranes and multiply. Salmon is also one of the best foods for rapid weight loss. Research participants who consumed three 5-ounce servings of the fish per week for a month as part of a low-calorie diet lost 2.2 pounds more than participants who consumed a salmon-less diet with the same number of calories, an International Journal of Obesity study found. Just make sure you stick with wild, which ensures you'll take in fewer belly-busting omega-6s. Add some flaked fish to a salad or serve a fillet with some roasted veggies and brown rice or over an entree-sized salad for a healthy, well-rounded meal.


spinach salads

If you've been feeling depressed, coming up short on certain nutrients could make your symptoms far worse. Research suggests that folic acid deficiency, for example, can suppress the production of S-adenosylmethionine, a naturally occurring compound that helps produce serotonin and dopamine, two major feel-good neurochemicals. Though more research is needed to confirm the hypothesis, scientist believe that improving folic acid status can help boost the production of S-adenosylmethionine, which could help resolve depressive symptoms. To reap the benefits, whip up an entree-sized spinach salad. Three cups of the leafy green has 175 micrograms of folate, which is nearly half of the daily recommended intake for both men and women. To help lift the gloom further, top your salad with peppers and salmon—and any other low-carb vegetables you're a fan of. Just avoid adding in cheese, chicken, or turkey; all these foods suppress the production of serotonin, counteracting some of the spinach's mood-boosting effects.

Rooibos Tea

red tea

Crabby? Stressed? Ready to pull your hair out? Forget that happy hour cocktail and fix yourself a cup of rooibos tea instead. The red, naturally sweet brew is rich in a powerful flavonoid called Aspalathin. Researchers say this flavonoid reduces stress hormones and inhibits adipogenesis–the formation of new fat cells–by as much as 22 percent. Sounds like great reasons to sit down with a cup—or two—to us! Looking for more slim down than de-stress? Sip on one of these teas for weight loss.

Whole Eggs

mushroom omelet
Feeling a bit gloomy and aggressive after a fall out with a friend or significant other? Take out your angst by cracking some eggs and whipping up an omelet. Breaking eggs far better than putting your fist through drywall and, thanks to their rich vitamin D content, eggs can help you cheer up, too. (A three-egg omelet will fulfill over a third of the day's recommended intake of the nutrient.) Exactly how vitamin D works to improve mood isn't yet fully understood. One theory is that the nutrient increases serotonin and dopamine in the brain—which is how many antidepressants work as well. One thing we do know for certain is that eating whole eggs can help ward off weight gain, so no matter how you look at it you can benefit from adding more of them to your diet. The yolk contains a nutrient called choline that suppresses the body's output of leptin, a hunger-stoking hormone that fuels between-meal cravings. Pair your omelet with a piece of whole-grain bread to increase levels of serotonin further.

Dana Leigh Smith
Dana has written for Women's Health, Prevention, Reader's Digest, and countless other publications. Read more about Dana Leigh
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