We have some bad news for you: According to a new study, comfort foods don’t actually make you feel better. Researchers at the University of Minnesota showed 100 students film clips meant to incite feelings of anger or sadness. Then, they gave them whatever the students said was their favorite comfort food. After a separate viewing of a stressful film, one group was given standard non-comfort foods, one was given a granola bar and one was given nothing. The researchers found that the students’ moods improved regardless of what they were eating or if they were eating. Time, not food, healed their psychological wounds. Makes you want to run to the nearest pint of ice cream, huh?
Instead of giving in to comfort foods that, apparently, won’t do anything but pack on pounds, try these healthier foods that science suggests might actually boost your mood.
Tyrosine, an amino acid, helps your brain create dopamine—a neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain’s pleasure center—and almonds are packed with it.
Recipe: Baked Almond Biscotti
Broccoli contains chromium, a mineral that helps increase the levels of serotonin and melatonin in the brain. That means a more level head and even mood. In fact, chromium is being studied as a possible treatment for depression.
Spinach & Clams
Folate, a.k.a. vitamin B9, and vitamin B12 are a known depression-fighting duo. Pair a handful of folate-heavy spinach and cooked clams, which contain high levels of B12, for a real happy meal.
The vibrantly colored spice is believed to help make serotonin more available, much in the same way that Prozac does. In an Iranian study, women experiencing mood swings and depression due to PMS who were given saffron capsules reported their symptoms to be better by at least 50 percent.
Recipe: Saffron Lassi
Vitamin D activates genes that release neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D, which is why during the winter many people experience a drop in vitamin D levels and, subsequently, depression. You can help replenish your vitamin D supply with eggs—specifically egg yolks.
Studies have found a connection between low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and depression, and though they are an essential part of brain health, the body cannot produce them on its own. Get them by eating fish like salmon.
Recipe: Chipotle-Rubbed Salmon Tacos
OK, here’s one common comfort food that might actually work. Chocolate is contains anandamide, a neurotransmitter that acts a lot like THC (the most important component of marijuana). The sugar in chocolate also helps boost endorphin levels.
When our brains detect capsaicin, the compound in chile peppers that make them spicy, they release endorphins in order to calm the body down. The result can be almost euphoric, if the peppers are spicy enough.
Recipe: Sriracha–Roasted Pumpkin Seeds