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The Greens That Beat the Blues
Does a cookie or a bag of chips really make a long, frustrating day better? Not exactly—but food can lift your spirits. That's because the act of eating, in general, releases a hormone called oxytocin, which triggers feelings of pleasure, explains Torey Armul, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Yet, since relying on food as an emotional pick-me-up can lead to weight gain and chronic emotional eating, Armul usually reaches for one of the specific foods that's scientifically linked to improved mood. One of her go-tos: any food that's rich in folate, such as leafy greens, including spinach and kale. Consuming folate has been shown to raise levels of serotonin , a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in regulating mood. In fact, many antidepressants target serotonin production.

How she eats it: Armul adds spinach to a surprising range of dishes, blending a cup of it in smoothies (she says the spinach taste is overpowered by the sweet flavor of fruit), shredding it for taco and sandwich toppings and stirring it into eggs (when making omelets), pasta dishes and soups.

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The Feel-Good Fish
When Lori Zanini, a nutritionist in Manhattan Beach, Calif., is glum, she tries to eat cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and albacore tuna. The fish's omega-3 fats aren't just great for your cardiovascular health; they're also linked to enhanced mood and brain function. Some studies have even found that mild-to-moderate depression may be relieved with fish-oil supplements, which are high in omega-3s.

How she eats it: There are tons of ways to prepare fish, but Zanini keeps it simple, usually just baking it, or marinating and grilling it. We love this easy roasted salmon with honey-dijon glaze. Or, try these salmon burgers, which are tucked into pita pockets.

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A "Junk Food" That's Actually Great For You
Beans may not instantly convey "I'm walking on sunshine!" but Cleveland-area nutritionist Kristin Kirkpatrick swears they can do wonders for her spirit. Here's why: their fiber and protein keep her satisfied for hours and prevent a dramatic drop in blood sugar—which is a surefire mood downer.

How she eats it: Kirkpatrick makes edamame hummus, which she says is so thick and rich-tasting, she feels like she's eating bad-for-you comfort food, when really it's one of the healthiest snacks you can indulge in. She likes to scoop up the dip with high-protein almond crackers.

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There may be a scientific reason we crave starchy foods when we're feeling low, Kristen Gradney, director of nutrition and metabolic services at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, points out. One hypothesis suggests carbohydrates can help your brain produce serotonin, which, as we noted earlier, regulates moods. Complex carbs, such as whole grains and starchy vegetables, take longer to digest, making them a sort of "time-release" happy pill.

How she eats it: Stick to whole grain pastas and breads, says Gradney; they'll stay with you longer. She also likes sweet potatoes as a picker-upper; there are so many healthy ways to eat them.