Not to be a negative Nancy right off the bat, but the holiday season isn’t the most wonderful time of the year for everyone. In fact, Thanksgiving can bring up a lot of emotions for some people, and sometimes none of the gratuitous variety. It’s not easy to break bread across the table from a family member you haven’t exactly meshed with over the years, but if tensions are running high, at least you can take comfort in the fact that Turkey Day is a foodie holiday, and some Thanksgiving foods can boost your mood better than others. It may not be ideal to have to sit through uncomfortable conversations, or even be in the same room if there’s that much bad blood between you and another person, but when things get uncomfortable, just scope out the buffet table and load on the goods.
There are two kinds of good-mood foods: foods that contain certain chemicals, vitamins, and minerals that have a concrete effect on how you feel, and foods you associate with happy memories. “Any food that provokes or invokes a happy memory, perhaps a fond childhood dish your family member makes, may psychologically induce a good mood,” Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, a nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition, tells Elite Daily.
Because these memories and emotions are so personal and subjective, she adds, foods that uplift your spirits may not necessarily have the same effect on someone else’s mood.
For example, for me, the happiest of Thanksgivings I can remember featured buttered rye toast and coffee for breakfast while my mom and nana finished up the last of their cooking. Nana always made these incredible miniature mushroom caps filled with shrimp stuffing, and my mom’s sweet potato casserole cannot be matched. Then there’s my sister’s cranberry slaw, which tastes amazing on Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches post-Black Friday shopping.
All of these foods make me feel merry and bright, no matter who’s at the dining room table. But maybe cranberries are too tart for your tastebuds, shrimp is too fishy, and sweet potato just isn’t your thing. Every family’s spread is different, meaning the foods you associate with happy holiday memories are going to be unique to you and your palate.
But, on the off chance that there really isn’t any one particular Thanksgiving dish that holds sentimental value, or this year you’re feeling less like Tiny Tim and more like a Scrooge, no judgment. Trust me, we all go through it, and if this year just happens to be the year of the grouch or unfortunate events (i.e. someone invited the bad seed to the holiday buffet), there are foods you can eat among the Thanksgiving spread that naturally boast a few mood-boosting qualities. Here are the key five to look out for.
Cut Into The Turkey For A Slice Of Happiness
Who knew the main attraction of Thanksgiving grub could be so good for your demeanor? Mental health counselor Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC says a generous serving of the Thanksgiving bird can definitely lift your spirits, all thanks to that thing called tryptophan in turkey, which you might usually associate with feeling sleepy. However, Forshee tells Elite Daily, "research in the area of neurobiology of depression has indicated that those suffering from depression may have a deficiency of plasma L-tryptophan." So, eating something rich in tryptophan would presumably help to balance out that deficiency.
Of course, depression is a very serious, clinical mental illness, and shouldn’t be used as a way to describe a temporary bad mood around the holidays. That being said, L-tryptophan is an amino acid that affects the brain’s levels of serotonin, aka a happy hormone, Forshee explains. So if you feel kind of down at the dinner table for one reason or another, add a few extra slices of turkey to your plate and see if your mood takes a turn for the better.
When Your Gut’s Happy, Your Heart’s Happy
When it’s time to start adding food to your Thanksgiving dinner plate, be mindful of dishes that can benefit your gut. According to Elise Museles, certified eating psychology and nutrition expert and creator of the Food Story platform, things like probiotics, fermented foods, and plant-based items should be your go-to.
"We have a second brain located in our belly and when you keep your gut happy, it directly impacts your mind and your mood," Museles tells Elite Daily. "With an estimated 90 percent (or more!) of the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter serotonin manufactured in our digestive tracts, it’s no wonder when you improve your gastrointestinal health, you simultaneously improve your mental health, too."
In other words, if a dish has Gouda, mozzarella, cheddar, or cottage cheese in it, throw it on your plate, because according to Healthline, these little slices of heaven are packed with those feel-good probiotics.
Spices Add A Little Something Extra To Your Dish And Your Mood
Got spices? Use ’em. Don’t hold back when adding sprinkles of cinnamon to pies or cayenne to veggies, because according to wellness expert Lillian Daniels, founder of The Happy Knee, not only will you feel happier, you’ll feel more energized throughout the day’s festivities, too.
"In general, foods that actually improve your energy level as well as reduce bloat can really help to boost your mood," Daniels tells Elite Daily. During the holidays, specifically, she suggests scoping out ciders, soups, and seasonal fruits that have been sweetened or savored with spices if your spirits need some up-lifting.
Make Sure You’re Getting In Your Greens
There are so many delectable dishes crowding the Thanksgiving dinner table every year that it can sometimes be tempting to skip greens altogether and go for the more indulgent offerings. But remember, everything in moderation, friends. You can have your delicacies, and still eat your leafy greens too. In fact, if you’re in a cranky mood this holiday, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Grace Derocha, highly suggests you do.
"Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach are full of mood- and energy-boosting vitamins and minerals" like folate, she explains, which regulates the production of serotonin, iron, and magnesium. "The iron and magnesium in these greens also support brain health and stave off lethargy," she tells Elite Daily.
Eating The Rainbow Does The Trick, Too
Does anyone else get a genuine thrill out of loading their plate with the most colorful dishes on the buffet table? According Museles, adding a pop of color to your plate can be up-lifting in and of itself.
"From vibrant autumn hues (red beets, orange pumpkins, and yellow curries), to wholesome green veggies and nutrient-rich colorful berries," she explains, "when you pack your plate like an artist’s palette, your visually vibrant meal will energize you more than a bland colorless one ever could."
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