Many people turn to junk food such as ice cream, cookies, and doughnuts when they’re feeling down in the dumps, but could eating certain foods actually prevent the proverbial blues? Mood-boosting foods are touted as a great way to ward off bouts of stress and anxiety without the use of prescription antidepressant medication. Although a specific diet should never be considered the only therapy you need to treat symptoms of depression and other mood disorders, the following foods have shown proven benefits for making positive changes to the brain’s chemistry.

“We have foods that not only boost our mood, but also reduce levels of stress and anxiety,” Jeanne Ricks, CHC, director of Holistic Wellness Programs for the City College of New York told Medical Daily. “Before drugs such as antidepressants were available for treating mood disorders, food was the prescribed medication. People can also consider magnesium supplements as a way to lift their mood, although certain foods can be a healthy source of magnesium such as leafy greens, nuts, and fish. Mood-boosting foods are a great way to naturally produce serotonin in the brain and are easy to get a hold of.” 

1. Dark Chocolate

People looking to lower their “bad” cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, and decrease their risk of blood clot are advised to add one ounce of dark chocolate to their diet each day. Psychologists also recommend a daily helping of dark chocolate to lower the risk of developing a mood disorder. Similar to red wine, dark chocolate contains resveratrol, an immune system boosting antioxidant. Research suggests resveratrol can lead to mental health benefits by increasing the brain’s production of endorphins, also known as natural opiates, and serotonin, a mood-altering chemical targeted by antidepressants.

2. Fruits and Vegetables

An apple a day keeps the doctor and mood disorders away. Psychology experts associate a healthy diet with a positive mood and at the heart of healthy diet are fruits and vegetables. Eliminating refined sugars found in processed food from our diet and adding the healthy nutrients provided by fruits and vegetables is an easy to way to boost serotonin levels. Adhering to a healthy diet in no way means starving yourself. In fact, adding a healthy fruit or vegetable like apples, berries, or celery as an in-between meal snack can help keep your stomach and mind satisfied.

3. Eggs

Packed with essential nutrients including protein, calcium, vitamins D and A, thiamine, riboflavin, and pantothenic, eggs can serve as a viable treatment option for depressive symptoms. Eggs are also considered a natural, unprocessed food, meaning they do not include depression worsening ingredients like refined sugar, high levels of sodium, and chemical additives. Aside from the mood-boosting effects of the minerals found in eggs, they are also regarded as comfort food. Don’t be surprised if the next time you’re enjoying scrambled eggs or a home-cooked omelet you find yourself thinking about a happy childhood memory.

4. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Rich Fish

Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids have become a popular suggestion for treating or preventing heart disease, but it can also treat certain mood disorders including depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in salmon, halibut, tuna, and other cold-water fish, can reduce inflammatory processes in the brain when combined with Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), another form of omega-3 fatty acid that can enter brain cells and improve the relay of signaling between brain chemicals.

5. Saffron

Derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, the saffron spice has been used all over the world to treat a range of different medical conditions, including asthma, menstrual cramps, infertility, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. Recent studies conducted on this culinary spice have shown an increase in serotonin levels when consumed, which can lead to an effect similar to antidepressants. Saffron is recommended as an alternative treatment for depression patients who are unable to tolerate the side effects caused by some prescription antidepressants.