Boost Your Mood with These 5 Nutrients, and the Best Food Sources of Them

1. Folate

Folate plays an important role in the synthesis of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that is involved in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep, among other functions. Serotonin is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan, which is converted into 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and then into serotonin with the help of various enzymes, including the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase.

Folate is required for the synthesis of several key enzymes involved in the production of serotonin, including tryptophan hydroxylase. This may be more difficult for some people with a genetic polymorphism on MTHFR. Those with this polymorphism are at higher risk of depression, and recent research suggest these individuals may particularly benefit from the active form of folate instead of folic acid.

In addition, folate is involved in the metabolism of homocysteine, which is a compound that can cause inflammation interfere with the production and function of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. High levels of homocysteine have been associated with depression and other mood disorders, and folate has been shown to help lower homocysteine levels.

Overall, adequate intake of folate is important for the proper synthesis and function of serotonin, which can have important implications for mental health and well-being. However, it’s important to note that serotonin production is a complex process that involves many other factors, including other nutrients and hormones. Therefore, while folate is an important nutrient for overall health, it is just one of many factors that can influence serotonin production and mood regulation.

Recommended Amounts of Folate

Folte, also known as vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in neurotransmitter production and resolving inflammation in the body (among other roles). The recommended daily intake of folate varies depending on age and gender. Here are the general guidelines for folate intake:

  • Infants 0-6 months: 65 mcg/day
  • Infants 7-12 months: 80 mcg/day
  • Children 1-3 years: 150 mcg/day
  • Children 4-8 years: 200 mcg/day
  • Children 9-13 years: 300 mcg/day
  • Teenagers 14-18 years: 400 mcg/day
  • Adults 19 years and older: 400 mcg/day

Pregnant women require higher amounts of folate to support fetal growth and development, and the recommended daily intake is 600-800 mcg/day. Breastfeeding women also need more folate, with a recommended daily intake of 500 mcg/day. It’s important to note that some people may require more folate due to certain medical conditions, medications, or genetic polymorphisms, so it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate amount of folate for you.

Best Food Sources of Folate

Folate in its active form is naturally found in a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fortified grains. Here are some of the highest folate foods and their serving sizes:

  • Lentils: 1 cup of cooked lentils provides 358 mcg of folate.
  • Spinach: 1 cup of cooked spinach provides 263 mcg of folate.
  • Black-eyed peas: 1 cup of cooked black-eyed peas provides 256 mcg of folate.
  • Asparagus: 1 cup of cooked asparagus provides 262 mcg of folate.
  • Chickpeas: 1 cup of cooked chickpeas provides 282 mcg of folate.
  • Brussels sprouts: 1 cup of cooked Brussels sprouts provides 94 mcg of folate.
  • Avocado: 1 medium avocado provides 121 mcg of folate.
  • Fortified breakfast cereals: 1 cup of fortified breakfast cereal provides 100-400 mcg of folate (depending on the brand and serving size).
  • Papaya: 1 medium papaya provides 115 mcg of folate.
  • Sunflower seeds: 1/4 cup of roasted sunflower seeds provides 82 mcg of folate.

It’s important to note that the folate content of these foods may vary depending on factors such as the growing conditions and preparation method. However, incorporating these foods into your diet can help you meet your daily folate needs.

Are Folate and Folic Acid Different?

Since 1998, FDA began requiring manufacturers to add 140 mcg folic acid/100 g to enriched breads, cereals, flours, corn meals, pastas, rice, and other grain products. However, for some people, this may not be the best form of folate.

L-methylfolate is now available in some supplements and is the same form as found naturally occurring in foods. If you have the MTHFR polymorphism, this natural, active form is more easily metabolized.

Folate and folic acid are forms of vitamin B9, which is an essential nutrient required for the growth and development of the body. While folate is naturally found in foods, folic acid is a synthetic form of the vitamin that is often added to foods and dietary supplements.

The main difference between folate and folic acid is in their chemical structure. Folate is the naturally occurring form of the vitamin that is found in food, and it is a group of compounds that includes tetrahydrofolate (THF) and other related compounds. Folic acid, on the other hand, is a synthetic form of the vitamin that is used in supplements and fortified foods. It is more stable and bioavailable than naturally occurring folates.

In the image to the right, you can see how folic acid is missing the methyl group that the natural form of folate contains.

While both folate and folic acid are important for health, they are processed differently by the body. Natural foods contain the active form of folate, 5-MTHF. Folic acid, on the other hand, must be converted into 5-MTHF before it can be used by the body. This conversion process requires the enzyme methylene-tetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) and other cofactors, and it is less efficient than the conversion of natural folates.

In general, it is recommended that individuals get their folate from a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods rich in natural folates and supplements as needed. However, it’s important to note that excessive intake of folic acid from supplements can mask symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, which can be harmful in some individuals. Therefore, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate amount of folate/folic acid for you.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There is growing evidence to suggest that omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, may be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression. Here are some of the ways that omega-3s may help with depression:

Anti-inflammatory effects: Omega-3s have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, which may help reduce inflammation in the brain that is associated with depression.

Brain cell membrane health: Omega-3s are important components of brain cell membranes, and they may help support the health and function of these membranes. This, in turn, may help improve communication between brain cells and reduce symptoms of depression.

Neurotransmitter function: Omega-3s may also help support the function of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, which are important for regulating mood.

Antioxidant effects: Some studies have suggested that omega-3s may have antioxidant effects in the brain, which may help protect against oxidative stress and damage that can contribute to depression.

While more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between omega-3s and depression, studies suggest that increasing intake of EPA and DHA through diet or supplementation may be helpful for some people with depression. However, it’s important to note that omega-3s should not be used as a replacement for other forms of treatment for depression, such as medication and therapy. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider to discuss the best treatment options for you.

Are Plant and Animal Sources of Omega-3’s Different?

Yes, plant and animal sourced omega-3 fatty acids are different. Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for human health. The three most important omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found mainly in plant-based sources, while EPA and DHA are found mainly in animal-based sources.

The main difference between plant and animal sourced omega-3s is in their chemical structure and the way they are metabolized by the body. Plant-based omega-3s, such as ALA, are shorter-chain fatty acids that are converted into longer-chain EPA and DHA in the body. However, this conversion process is not very efficient, and only a very small fraction of ALA is converted into EPA and DHA. Therefore, plant-based sources of omega-3s may not provide as much EPA and DHA as animal-based sources. Additionally, some people have a genetic polymorphism that may impair this conversion, making it even less efficient. This would place these individuals at a high risk of EPA and DHA deficiency, particularly if they consume a completely plant based diet.

On the other hand, animal-based sources of omega-3s, such as fatty fish, provide EPA and DHA directly, which are the longer-chain fatty acids that have been linked to many health benefits. EPA and DHA are important for the proper functioning of the brain, heart, and immune system, among other functions. In addition, research suggests that EPA and DHA may have anti-inflammatory effects, which can help prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, and some types of cancer.

In summary, while both plant and animal-based sources of omega-3s are important for health, they provide different types of fatty acids that are metabolized differently by the body. Therefore, it’s important to incorporate a variety of sources of omega-3s into your diet, including fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and other plant-based sources, to ensure that you are getting a balance of different types of omega-3s.

ALA is found mainly in plant oils such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils. DHA and EPA are found in fish and other seafood. ALA is an essential fatty acid, meaning that your body can’t make it, so you must get it from the foods and beverages you consume.

Fatty acids are important components of the membranes that surround each cell in your body. The composition of fatty acids in your cell membranes depends on what you eat. These fatty acids have many functions in your heart, blood vessels, lungs, immune system, and endocrine system (the network of hormone-producing glands). Consuming less inflammatory fatty acids like omega-3’s has an impact on how inflammed your body is (or isn’t)

Best Food Sources of Omega-3

Keeping in mind the poor conversion of plant based omega 3 (ALA) to the most beneficial EPA and DHA (from animal or algae sources), here are some examples of different foods and their omega-3 content, along with recommended portion sizes:

  • Fatty fish: Fatty fish are some of the best sources of omega-3s, particularly EPA and DHA. Examples include salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked salmon contains about 2.3 grams of omega-3s, while a 3.5-ounce serving of cooked mackerel contains about 2.5 grams of omega-3s.
  • Flaxseeds: Flaxseeds are a good source of ALA, a type of omega-3 that is found mainly in plant-based sources. One tablespoon (10 grams) of ground flaxseeds contains about 2.4 grams of ALA.
  • Chia seeds: Chia seeds are another good source of ALA, as well as fiber and other nutrients. One ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds contains about 5 grams of ALA.
  • Walnuts: Walnuts are a good source of ALA, as well as other nutrients such as fiber and protein. One ounce (28 grams) of walnuts contains about 2.5 grams of ALA.
  • Soybeans: Soybeans are a plant-based source of omega-3s, as well as protein and other nutrients. One cup (172 grams) of cooked soybeans contains about 1 gram of ALA.
  • Grass-fed beef: Grass-fed beef contains more omega-3s than conventional beef, although it still contains lower amounts compared to fatty fish or some plant-based sources. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of grass-fed beef contains about 0.5 grams of omega-3s.

Factors such as the type of fish, the farming or production practices, and the season. In addition, the recommended daily intake of omega-3s can vary depending on age, sex, and other factors. In general, most health organizations recommend consuming at least 250-500 milligrams of EPA and DHA per day for optimal health. For ALA, the recommended intake is at least 1.1 grams per day for women and 1.6 grams per day for men.

3. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is an important nutrient that plays a role in many bodily functions, including the production of neurotransmitters that regulate mood, such as serotonin and dopamine. Here are some ways that B6 may be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression:

  • Neurotransmitter function: Vitamin B6 is involved in the synthesis of several neurotransmitters that are important for regulating mood, including serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
  • Hormone regulation: Vitamin B6 is involved in the regulation of several hormones, including those that affect mood, such as cortisol and melatonin.
  • Anti-inflammatory effects: Some studies have suggested that vitamin B6 may have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, which may help reduce inflammation in the brain that is associated with depression.
  • Energy metabolism: Vitamin B6 is involved in energy metabolism, which can help reduce fatigue and improve overall mood.

While vitamin B6 may be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression for some people, it’s important to note that B6 should not be used as a replacement for other forms of treatment, such as medication and therapy. Additionally, taking high doses of B6 can be toxic and may cause nerve damage. If you are considering taking vitamin B6 supplements for depression, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider first to discuss the best approach for you.

Best Food Sources of B6

Vitamin B6 is found in a variety of foods. Here are some of the best food sources of vitamin B6 along with portion sizes:

Chickpeas: 1 cup of cooked chickpeas contains about 1.1 mg of vitamin B6.

Tuna: A 3-ounce serving of cooked yellowfin tuna contains about 0.9 mg of vitamin B6.

Turkey: A 3-ounce serving of roasted turkey breast contains about 0.6 mg of vitamin B6.

Beef liver: A 3-ounce serving of beef liver contains about 0.9 mg of vitamin B6.

Potatoes: One medium baked potato with skin contains about 0.6 mg of vitamin B6.

Sunflower seeds: 1 ounce of sunflower seeds contains about 0.5 mg of vitamin B6.

Pistachios: 1 ounce of roasted pistachios contains about 0.3 mg of vitamin B6.

Bananas: One medium banana contains about 0.4 mg of vitamin B6.

Spinach: One cup of cooked spinach contains about 0.4 mg of vitamin B6.

It’s important to note that the amount of vitamin B6 in these foods can vary depending on factors such as the soil quality, processing, and cooking methods. Additionally, certain factors such as pregnancy, lactation, and vegetarian or vegan diets may increase the need for vitamin B6. If you’re concerned about your vitamin B6 intake, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to discuss the best approach for you.

Recommended Amounts of B6

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, varies depending on age and sex. Here are the RDAs for different age groups:

Infants 0-6 months: 0.1 milligrams (mg)

Infants 7-12 months: 0.3 mg

Children 1-3 years: 0.5 mg

Children 4-8 years: 0.6 mg

Children 9-13 years: 1 mg

Adolescents 14-18 years (boys): 1.3 mg

Adolescents 14-18 years (girls): 1.2 mg

Adults (men): 1.3-1.7 mg

Adults (women): 1.3-1.5 mg

Pregnant women: 1.9 mg

Breastfeeding women: 2.0-2.1 mg

It’s important to note that certain factors, such as pregnancy and lactation, can increase the need for vitamin B6. Additionally, some medications may interfere with vitamin B6 absorption or increase the body’s requirement for the vitamin. If you’re concerned about your vitamin B6 intake, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to discuss the best approach for you.

4. Zinc

There is some evidence to suggest that zinc may be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression, although more research is needed to fully understand its potential benefits. Here are some of the ways that zinc may be involved in mood regulation:

  • Neurotransmitter function: Zinc is involved in the synthesis and function of several neurotransmitters that are important for regulating mood, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
  • Anti-inflammatory effects: Zinc has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, which may help reduce inflammation in the brain that is associated with depression.
  • Antioxidant effects: Some studies have suggested that zinc may have antioxidant effects in the brain, which may help protect against oxidative stress and damage that can contribute to depression.
  • Hormone regulation: Zinc plays a role in the regulation of several hormones, including the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol are associated with depression and anxiety, and some studies have suggested that zinc supplementation may help reduce cortisol levels.

While zinc may be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression for some people, it’s important to note that zinc should not be used as a replacement for other forms of treatment, such as medication and therapy. Additionally, taking high doses of zinc can be toxic and may cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you are considering taking zinc supplements for depression, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider first to discuss the best approach for you.

Recommended Amounts of Zinc

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for zinc varies depending on age and sex. Here are the RDAs for different age groups:

  • Infants 0-6 months: 2 milligrams (mg)
  • Infants 7-12 months: 3 mg
  • Children 1-3 years: 3 mg
  • Children 4-8 years: 5 mg
  • Children 9-13 years: 8 mg
  • Adolescents 14-18 years (boys): 11 mg
  • Adolescents 14-18 years (girls): 9 mg
  • Adults (men): 11 mg
  • Adults (women): 8 mg
  • Pregnant women: 11-12 mg
  • Breastfeeding women: 11-13 mg

Best Food Sources of Zinc

Zinc is found in a variety of foods, including:

Oysters: Oysters are one of the best sources of zinc, with a single medium-sized oyster containing around 5-7mg of zinc.

Beef: Beef is a good source of zinc, with a 3-ounce serving of cooked beef containing around 4-7mg of zinc.

Pork: Pork is another good source of zinc, with a 3-ounce serving of cooked pork containing around 2-3mg of zinc.

Chicken: Chicken is a good source of zinc, with a 3-ounce serving of cooked chicken containing around 1-2mg of zinc.

Legumes: Legumes, such as chickpeas, lentils, and beans, are a good plant-based source of zinc. A half-cup serving of cooked chickpeas contains around 1-2mg of zinc.

Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds, such as pumpkin seeds, cashews, and almonds, are also good sources of zinc. A one-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds contains around 2-3mg of zinc.

Dairy: Dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, are good sources of zinc. A 1-ounce serving of cheddar cheese contains around 1mg of zinc, while a 6-ounce serving of plain yogurt contains around 1-2mg of zinc.

It’s important to note that the amount of zinc in these foods can vary depending on factors such as the soil quality, processing, and cooking methods. Additionally, certain factors such as pregnancy, lactation, and vegetarian or vegan diets may increase the need for zinc. If you’re concerned about your zinc intake, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian.

5. Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral that has been shown to play a role in mood regulation. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

Research has suggested that magnesium may help to improve mood by regulating neurotransmitters, reducing inflammation, and promoting relaxation. Magnesium also plays a key role in the body’s stress response system, which may explain its potential mood-lifting effects.

While magnesium supplementation may be helpful for some people with mood disorders, it’s important to note that the evidence is mixed and more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between magnesium and mood. Additionally, magnesium supplementation can interact with certain medications and may not be appropriate for everyone. If you’re interested in using magnesium to support your mood, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to discuss the best approach for you.

There are so many different magnesium supplements. What do I take?

There are several different types of magnesium supplements, each with unique properties and potential health benefits. Here are some of the most common types of magnesium and their benefits:

  • Magnesium oxide: This form of magnesium is the most common and is often used to treat acid reflux, constipation, and magnesium deficiency.
  • Magnesium citrate: This form of magnesium is highly absorbable and is often used to improve digestive health, alleviate constipation, and support overall health and wellness.
  • Magnesium glycinate: This form of magnesium is highly absorbable and is often used to improve sleep quality, reduce anxiety, and alleviate muscle pain and cramps.
  • Magnesium malate: This form of magnesium is often used to support energy production and reduce muscle pain and fatigue.
  • Magnesium chloride: This form of magnesium is highly absorbable and is often used to alleviate muscle pain, reduce stress, and support overall health and wellness.
  • Magnesium threonate: This form of magnesium is highly absorbable and is often used to support brain health, improve cognitive function, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

It’s important to note that different types of magnesium may be better suited for different health concerns, and the optimal dosage may vary depending on the individual’s needs and health status. If you’re considering using magnesium supplements, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to discuss the best approach for you.

Best Food Sources of Magnesium

Here are some foods that are high in magnesium and their serving sizes:

Almonds: 1 ounce (about 23 whole almonds) provides 80 mg of magnesium.

Spinach: 1 cup of cooked spinach provides 157 mg of magnesium.

Avocado: 1 medium avocado provides 58 mg of magnesium.

Dark chocolate: 1 ounce (about a square or two) of dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa provides 64 mg of magnesium.

Black beans: 1/2 cup of cooked black beans provides 60 mg of magnesium.

Pumpkin seeds: 1 ounce (about 140 seeds) provides 150 mg of magnesium.

Edamame: 1 cup of cooked edamame provides 99 mg of magnesium.

Whole grains: 1 cup of cooked quinoa provides 118 mg of magnesium, while 1 slice of whole wheat bread provides 23 mg of magnesium.

It’s worth noting that the magnesium content in foods can vary depending on factors such as soil quality, processing, and cooking methods. Additionally, some individuals may have difficulty absorbing magnesium from their diet due to underlying health conditions. If you’re concerned about your magnesium intake, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to discuss the best approach for you.

Recommended Amounts of Magnesium by Age

Here are the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for magnesium by age group:

Infants 0-6 months: 30 milligrams per day (mg/day)

Infants 7-12 months: 75 mg/day

Children 1-3 years: 80 mg/day

Children 4-8 years: 130 mg/day

Children 9-13 years: 240 mg/day

Adolescents 14-18 years: 410 mg/day for males, 360 mg/day for females

Adults 19-30 years: 400-420 mg/day for males, 310-320 mg/day for females

Adults 31 years and older: 420 mg/day for males, 320 mg/day for females

Pregnant women: 350-400 mg/day

Breastfeeding women: 310-360 mg/day

It’s worth noting that the RDAs for magnesium are set to cover the needs of most healthy individuals, and individual requirements may vary based on factors such as age, sex, and health status. Additionally, some medications and medical conditions can affect magnesium absorption and may increase the risk of deficiency. If you’re concerned about your magnesium intake, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to discuss the best approach for you.

Resources

Folate: National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (2020). Folate. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/

Omega-3: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/omega-3-fats/

Zinc: National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021). Zinc. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/

Vitamin B6: National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021). Vitamin B6. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB6-HealthProfessional/

Magnesium: National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021). Magnesium. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/

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Anne Marie Berggren RDN, MS, CDN, CNSC is a Registered Dietitian with a Master's Degree in Nutrition, training in integrative and functional nutrition, nutrition for mental health, obesity and weight management, is a board certified nutrition support clinician, and an adjunct professor for the Stony Brook Graduate Nutrition Program teaching advanced clinical nutrition.

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