Biting into a piece of dark chocolate or eating a bowl of your favorite food might bring a temporary smile to your face, but experts say there’s a way to extend those fleeting feelings of joy.
“There is a food-mood connection,” says nutritional psychiatrist Dr. Uma Naidoo, director of nutritional and metabolic psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of This is Your Brain on Food. “Any changes you make in your diet won’t [boost happiness] overnight but they will have an impact over time.”
Want happiness that lasts long after your next meal? These eight foods can help.
Add turmeric to soups, stews and smoothies. Curcumin, the active ingredient that gives turmeric its yellow color, has been shown to have antidepressant effects.
For the biggest impact, Naidoo suggests using ¼ teaspoon of turmeric daily and adding a pinch of black pepper, adding, “Black pepper makes the curcumin 2,000 percent more bioavailable.”
The fermented tea could quench your thirst and improve your mood. Kombucha is packed with probiotics and the live microorganisms appear to have antidepressant effects. Other fermented foods, including tempeh, miso, kimchi and sauerkraut could have similar impacts on mood, according to Ramsey.
“Eating fermented foods leads to a more diverse set of bacteria in the gut [and] that tends to calm down our overactive immune systems,” he adds. “Fermented foods are one of the food categories that can have a big impact on mental health.”
A little cinnamon has big benefits on mood because it’s loaded with antioxidants, combats inflammation and protects against neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, notes Naidoo. It also appears to have a positive effect on mood so go ahead and sprinkle the flavorful spice on toast or add it to coffee for a pinch of happiness.
A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to lower risk of depression. The happiness super food is also high in vitamin B12, a vitamin that is associated with positive mood—and might even help ward off depression or improve the impact of antidepressants.
5. Leafy greens
Stock up at the salad bar. Collard greens, spinach, kale, cabbage and other leafy greens contain high levels of magnesium, a nutrient that can serotonin boost, the so-called happiness hormone. Leafy greens also contain a lot of fiber.
“Fiber feeds the microbiome,” says Dr. Drew Ramsey, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and author of Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety. “How clearly you think [and] how anxious you feel…are dictated by the diversity of organisms that live in your gut.”
There appears to be a link between depression and the amount of Lactobacillus in the gut. Eating yogurt reintroduces the powerful probiotic and could actually reverse the symptoms of depression.
“Probiotics can be very powerful when it comes to improving mood even when compared to [antidepressant] medications,” says Naidoo.
Following a vegan diet? Many plant-based yogurts also contain probiotics.
The fewer beans, peas and lentils in your diet, the higher the risk of depression. The benefits of adding vegetables to your diet appear to come from high levels of magnesium, tryptophan, fiber, folate and omega-3 fatty acids that are connected with improved mood.
Grab a handful of almonds as a snack or add them to salads, yogurt, or oatmeal. Regular consumption of the nutrient-rich snack food has been linked to lower rates of depression and improved mood. Ramsey credits the healthy fats in almonds and other nuts for the mood-boosting benefits.
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