10 Nutrients Scientifically Proven to Make You Feel Awesome

10 Nutrients Scientifically Proven to Make You Feel Awesome

Want some pep in your step? Perhaps a dash of good cheer? (Who doesn’t, right?). Look no further than the grocery store’s shelves. Foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids are not only super healthy, but can also increase happiness, lessen symptoms of depression, and quell anxiety [1] [2].

10 Foods Scientifically-Proven to Make You Happier

How can foods improve our moods? It all comes down to the brain. A healthy cognitive system is essential to regulating mood, and certain nutrients have a profound impact on maintaining normal brain function [3]. To date, researchers have studied the association between foods and the brain and identified nine nutrients that can combat depression and boost our mood: calcium, chromium, folate, iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and zinc [4] [5]. Try one of these foods for a mid-day pick-me-up, to promote long-term happiness, or to ward off the nagging worry that you forgot to lock the front door (You did remember, right?).

 A bit about the units used below: Mg (milligram) is the typical unit of measurement for nutrients and 1,000 mg equals 1 gram. Mcg is the abbreviation of  microgram and 1,000 mcg equals 1 mg. 

1. Calcium


 The most abundant mineral in the body, calcium plays an important role in maintaining strong bones and healthy blood vessels, and in reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Low levels of calcium may play a role in PMS-related depression in particular [6] (Sorry guys, we couldn’t find data on whether calcium can also regulate male fluctuations in mood). Calcium deficiency affects more women than men, so women should take special care to meet the daily requirements [7].

How eating it helps: Found in a variety of sources (non-dairy included), calcium is often paired with vitamin D to help regulate mood fluctuations attributed to PMS [6]. Since estrogen plays a large role in calcium production, calcium consumption may improve PMS-related depression [9].

RDA: 1,000 mg per day for adults

Food Sources of Calcium:

2. Chromium

 A trace mineral found in small amounts in the body, chromium helps the body metabolize food [10]. A lack of chromium hurts the body’s ability to regulate insulin (the hormone that regulates sugar) and may lead to diabetes-related complications like vision loss and high blood pressure [11].

How eating it helps: Chromium plays an important role in increasing the brains’ level of serotonin, norepinephrine, and melatonin, which help the brain regulate emotion and mood [12]. Because chromium works directly with the brain’s mood regulators, it’s been found to be an effective treatment of depression [12].

RDA: 25 mcg per day for women; 35 mcg per day for men

Food Sources of Chromium:

  • Broccoli (1/2 cup): 11 mcg
  • Grape juice (1 cup): 8 mcg
  • Whole-wheat English muffin (1 piece): 4 mcg
  • Potatoes (mashed) (1 cup): 3 mcg
  • Turkey breast (1/3 cup): 2 mcg
3. Folate

 Folate (alternatively known as B9 or folic acid) helps the body create new cells and supports serotonin regulation. Serotonin passes messages between nerve cells and helps the brain manage a variety of functions, from determining mood to regulating social behavior. Folate deficiency can cause fatigue in addition to lowering levels of serotonin [14].

How eating it helps: A pair of power nutrients, Folate and B12 are often paired together to treat depression [15]. By itself, Folate has the added benefit of boosting the efficiency of antidepressants [16].

RDA: 400 mg per day for adults

Food Sources of Folate:

4. Iron

 Iron plays an important role in the body, from transporting oxygen to supporting energy levels and aiding muscle strength. Low levels of iron can lead to feelings of fatigue and depression [17]. Iron deficiency appears more frequently in women than men, especially women of childbearing age [5].

How eating helps: Consuming enough iron will help prevent iron anemia (not enough iron), a condition that commonly affects women more than men. Keeping enough iron in the body is important, as the fatigue, apathy, and mood change associated with the iron deficiency can often lead to depression [4].

RDA: 18 mg per day for women; 8 mg per day for men

Food Sources of Iron: 

5. Magnesium

 Magnesium is a mineral that plays over 300 roles in maintaining and protecting the body’s health. Deficiency can cause irritability, fatigue, mental confusion, and predisposition to stress.

How eating it helps: Magnesium plays a large role in the development of serotonin, which is a major contributor to feelings of happiness [20]. Due to its ability to help regulate emotions, it’s a common element in homeopathic remedies for balancing mood [21].

RDA: 310 mg per day for women; 400 mg per day for men

Food Sources of Magnesium:

6. Omega-3s

 Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that plays an important role in brain health and contributes up to 18 percent of the brain’s weight [22].The body does not naturally produce Omega-3s, so the fatty acid needs to be consumed from outside sources. Deficiency symptoms include fatigue, mood swings, memory decline, and depression.

How eating it helps: Studies show a correlation between consumption of fish with high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and a decreased risk of depression and suicide [23]. Whether eating fish or snacking on chia seeds, increasing your intake of omega 3 fatty acids may help combat depression [24].

RDA: There is no established RDA for Omega-3s, but the American Heart Association suggests eating a variety of fish (trout, herring, and salmon) at least twice a week. For vegetarians, there are also plenty of non-meat sources of Omega-3s (see below for a few suggestions).

Food Sources of Omega-3:

7. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 helps the production of neurotransmitters (which send messages from the brain to the rest of the body). Deficiency in B6 can cause short-term anemia; long-term effects include a weakened immune system, confusion, and depression.

How eating it helps: Consuming vitamin B6 is essential for regulating brain function, which influences our emotions [25]. In addition to regulating healthy moods, Vitamin B6 is also an effective method for treating premenstrual depression [26].

RDA: 1.3 mg per day for adults

Food Sources of B6:

8. Vitamin B12

B12  is an essential element that aids in the creation of red blood cells and nerves. Low levels of B12 can cause short-term fatigue, slowed reasoning, and paranoia, and are associated with depression [15]. Vitamin B-12 is found naturally in meats, eggs, and animal byproducts, meaning vegetarians and vegans have an increased risk of developing a deficiency.

How eating it helps: Because moods depend largely on signals from the brain, B12 plays an important role in regulating depression — consuming enough vitamin B12 allows the body to synthesize a group of nutrients critical for normal neurological function [28].

RDA: 2.4 mcg per day for adults

Food Sources of B12:

9. Vitamin D

 Vitamin D helps regulate cell growth, plays an important role in maintaining the immune system, and (when paired with calcium) protects bones. Studies show that low levels of vitamin D are associated with depressive symptoms in both men and women [29] [30]. Most often, lowered levels of Vitamin D are the result of indoor lifestyles, limited sun exposure, and inadequate intake of vitamin-D-rich foods.

How eating it helps: If you’re feeling blue, increasing vitamin D could help ward off depression.  Consuming the mood-regulating vitamin is important, especially during the wintertime when light from the sun (a natural producer of vitamin D) is limited [31].

RDA: 600 IU per day for adults ages 15 to 60

IU (International Unit) is a type of measurement typically reserved for Vitamin A, C, D and E. 40 IU’s of Vitamin D will equal 1 mcg— so Cod liver oil will have 1,360 IU or 34 mcg of Vitamin D.

Food Sources of Vitamin D:

10. Zinc

 Zinc is found in almost every cell and plays an important role in supporting a healthy immune system and helping the body protect the gut from damage [32]. Low levels of zinc in the diet can lead to a variety of ailments, including a weakened immune system, loss of appetite, anemia, hair loss, and depression. Vegetarians need as much as 50 percent more zinc than non-vegetarians due to the body’s lower absorption rate of plant-based zinc [5].

How eating it helps: Studies have identified zinc as an important factor in decreasing depressive symptoms, as the vitamin can improve the response of antidepressants while reducing the side effects of anti-depression medication [34]. A lack of zinc can trigger depressive behaviors, so load up on zinc-rich foods to balance your mood. [35].

RDA:  11mg per day for men; 8mg per day for women

Food Sources of Zinc:

What foods do you eat for maximum happiness? Share in the comments below, or get in touch with us on Facebook!

About the Author

Maya Dangerfield

I’m a recovering teacher and editorial intern for Greatist.com. I love mixed martial arts, soccer, scuba diving, and any challenging physical…


Zinc – When to Use It, When to Stop

Who Can Benefit from Zinc Supplements?

Zinc supplements can be used to treat many common ailments. They should only be taken for short periods before having a break as can cause toxicity.

Sandra Markcrow
on Sep 11, 2012
Who Can Benefit from Zinc Supplements? - FreeImagesLive.co.uk

Zinc is an important trace mineral in the body. It is required for many functions including cell growth, blood clotting, the senses vision, smell, taste and the functioning of both insulin and the thyroid gland. It is also needed by the immune system, nervous system, hormone release, for growth and development and reproduction. Most of us get enough zinc from the food we eat. Zinc food sources include red meat, poultry, fish, oysters, beans, nuts, legumes, dairy products, whole grains, cereals and breads Although zinc deficiency is rare due to the fact that we get most of our zinc from our diets, zinc supplements can be used to treat and prevent many common ailments. This article discusses the symptoms of zinc deficiency, the health benefits of zinc supplements, recommended dosages and side effects.

Zinc Deficiency

Common causes of zinc deficiency include alcoholism, anorexia, malabsorption, inflammatory bowel diseases, famine, diet and also is more common in people over the age of 75. The initial symptoms of zinc deficiency include lack of taste and smell; loss of appetite, poor wound healing and white spots on the fingernails. As zinc deficiency worsens, symptoms can include depression, acne, psoriasis, dermatitis, night blindness and stunted growth in children.

The Health Benefits of Zinc Supplements

Zinc supplements can be used to prevent and treat many common ailments. It should be noted that zinc supplements should not be taken for the long term due to risk of serious side effects. Using them for short periods before taking a few months break is generally considered safe. Zinc can be used to treat the following ailments.

  • Colds and Influenza

Zinc helps to booster the immune system. The severity and duration of a cold or influenza can be reduced by taking a zinc supplement at the onset of symptoms. Zinc lozenges tend to be the most effective and are available in most chemists. Ensuring you are getting enough zinc in your diet can help prevent colds and influenza.

  • Acne Treatment

Some studies have shown that zinc can help to prevent acne breakouts and accelerate the healing of lesions. It is recommended to take 30mgs of zinc picolinate twice daily for one month and then reduce it to 30mgs once a day. Zinc picolinate is more easily absorbed than other zinc supplements.

  • Premenstrual Syndrome

Studies have shown that zinc supplements may be of benefit for some women in treating symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. Many women find relief from abdominal cramps, mood swings and breast tenderness associated with the menstrual cycle. Zinc deficiency is also common in pregnant women and can adversely affect the fetus causing low birth weight, premature birth, congenital abnormalities and delivery complications. If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor about taking a zinc supplement to reduce these risks.

  • Treatment for Major Depression

Zinc deficiency is common in people with major depression. A study found that a group of people with major depression, who were given 25mg of zinc per day compared to a placebo group, significantly improved their symptoms of depression on two different depression scales. It should be noted that both groups continued their anti-depressant medication whilst participating in this study. If you suffer from depression, talk to your doctor about a zinc supplement and try to ensure your diet includes zinc rich foods.

  • Male Fertility Booster

Zinc helps to booster healthy male sperm production and increase testosterone levels. Zinc in the seminal fluid helps to protect sperm from bacteria and chromosomal damage. Zinc deficiency is common in men with impotence, infertility and other reproductive problems. Taking a 10mg supplement of zinc per day has shown to be effective in treating these fertility disorders.

  • Eye Health

Studies have shown that zinc is important in treating and preventing eye problems. It helps to treat and prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Zinc deficiency is common in these eye disorders and they are the leading causes of blindness as we age. Ensuring you get enough zinc in your diet can help to prevent the development of these eye disorders.

Recommended Daily Intake of Zinc

For female adults, the recommended daily dosage of zinc is 8mgs. For adult males it is 11mgs. Pregnant females should try to get 12mgs per day. Most people, to ensure you are getting enough zinc per day, can simply take a regular daily multi-vitamin with minerals. Taking a zinc supplement to address any of the conditions detailed above should only be taken for a short period to prevent symptoms of toxicity and copper deficiency. Always consult your doctor before taking a zinc supplement.

Zinc Supplement Side Effects

Zinc supplements can cause toxicity in the body if taken when not required. Side effects of toxicity can include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It can also interfere with your body’s ability to absorb copper and cause additional side effects due to copper deficiency. Zinc supplements should never be taken if you are on a course of antibiotics as may reduce their effectiveness. Zinc supplements can also interact with your current medication. You should always consult a doctor before taking any supplements who can advise you about whether it is appropriate for you and recommend dosages.

Zinc is considered the second most important mineral in the body compared to Iron. Although we need very little of it, it plays a major role in a whole host of bodily functions. If you suspect you may be zinc deficient or are suffering from any of the ailments discussed above, talk to your doctor about taking a zinc supplement.


University of Maryland Medical Center Zinc Retrieved September 12,2012

Mayo Clinic Zinc Retrieved September 12,2012

Intelihealth Zinc Supplements Retrieved September 12,2012

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.