Are you craving sweet, salty, and fatty foods when you are feeling down? French fries, anybody? And a milkshake to follow? If yes, you are not alone! When we are depressed, our brains are in overdrive in search for serotonin, a natural feel-good chemical our body produces. Salt, sugar, and fat in our food taste great and provide a feeling of satisfaction – but the effect is short-lived. In fact, binging on what we know is unhealthy food, often leads to remorse and lower self-esteem; in turn, further deepening the feeling of unhappiness, anxiety, and depression.

Is there a way out of this vicious circle? There is no shortage of general recommendations about the importance of healthy eating and active lifestyle. We agree. Leafy vegetables, fatty fish, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep are all good for you. Problem is, these are long-term solutions. But what can you do quickly before the pull of a burger or Oreos become overwhelming? Try these five foods to provide a quick rescue.

1. Cashews. Cashews are rich in tryptophan, a neurochemical that our bodies turn into serotonin. They are also rich in magnesium and vitamin B6, both essential for the overall health and for controlling mood swings. Stick with unsalted nuts and avoid large packages. Remember that just a handful per day should be enough.

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2. Walnuts. Walnuts are long known to be the ultimate “brain food”. Because of their high omega-3 content, they are incredibly “satisfying” to eat and are a good source of copper, iron, phosphorous, magnesium, and calcium—all nutrients which are important for good health. Some publications also link walnuts to increased level of melatonin, one of the body’s sleep regulating hormones. Walnuts are so good that it is easy to eat too much. To reduce the risk of overeating, buy unshelled variety. Not only the nutrients are likely to be better preserved, but the time required to crack the nuts will help slow down the pace of eating.

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3. Dark chocolate. Dark chocolate helps release serotonin and relaxes the blood vessels. Its impact on mood is almost instantaneous. Just remember that dark chocolate is incredibly calorie-dense, with about 150 calories per ounce, so eat just one small piece at a time. Unfortunately, dark chocolate is also a known trigger of migraines in some people. Avoid chocolate if you are one of them.

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4. Tumeric. Strictly speaking, turmeric is not food. Rather it is a bold spice found in many Indian and Asian curry dishes. It is often reported as having anti-inflammatory and mood-boosting effects. Experiment adding turmeric to your next meal (but don’t overdo it!) and see if it helps.

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5. Green tea. Green tea leaves are naturally rich in amino acids providing calming and mood stabilizing effects. The great advantage of green tea is that it is, effectively, calorie-free and, thus, can be consumed without the risk of gaining weight.

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Needless to say, serious health conditions, including depression, require medical attention. A diet alone, however highly recommended, is not a substitute for regular medical care. The good news is that several medications are available to treat depression and more compounds are in development pipeline.  

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