Anyone who has dug into a pint of ice cream after a breakup or sipped chicken soup when they are sick knows that food can have therapeutic powers. Most of those belief about food aren't based in science and have recently been debunked.
The problem is, a lot of these mood boosters actually aren't all that good for you: chicken soup is full of salt, ice cream packs a huge caloric punch, and while wine has health benefits, more than one glass is riskier than it is beneficial.
But there are some good-for-you foods that can boost your mood and leave you feeling better than you did before you ate them. And the good news is they are right in front of you almost every single day ...
Oranges: Aromatherapists believe the scent of an orange provides mental clarity and reduces anxiety, and there's a reason citrus scents are in so many shower gels: the smell helps perk you up. It's also full of fiber, vitamin C and water; dehydration can lead to crabbiness, so a juicy orange can help fend that off too.
Whole grain cereal and toast: Cereal and toast are comfort foods for many people, probably because they hearken back to childhood. While a bowl of Captain Crunch is never going to be health food no matter how nostalgic it makes you, whole grain carbs raise serotonin levels, which help create feelings of calm (although eating any protein will block that reaction). And they do it without the blood sugar spikes that come from refined grain products.
Milk: A glass of warm milk is a classic sleep-inducer, and it does actually help: Milk is high in tryptophan, which helps you feel sleepy (although maybe not as much as we think), and the comforting warmth of a mug of hot milk can pack you off to dreamland. The calcium and protein boost are beneficial, too.
Green tea: It's loaded with antioxidants, and even the caffeine is actually good for you in moderate amounts; it boosts energy and brainpower. Not only that, but tea is probably the most mindful of any beverage we drink: You actually have to heat the water and let the tea steep before drinking, which requires you to slow down for a minute and think about what you're doing.
Fish: Eating fish doesn't make you smarter, but the Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish have been shown to help with depression. People with major depression are advised to eat three serving of omega-3-rich fish like salmon, tuna, herring or sardines, or take a fish oil supplement. If you've just got a little bit of the blues, though, you won't get the same effect. And alcohol, hydrogenated fats and corn, soybean and vegetable oils actually inhibit omega-3s action in the body.
The most powerful food-mood connection, though, is the placebo effect. If you believe that eating a square of dark chocolate or nibbling on a protein snack is going to make you feel happier or more energetic, chances are good it will have the hoped-for effect.
Image via Malkav/Flickr