The next time you’re feeling low, you might be tempted to reach for a tub of ice cream or a bag of salty, processed chips. Unfortunately, due to their high sugar or sodium content, these foods usually deliver a short-term mood boost followed by a subsequent “crash” of feeling worse afterwards.
Instead, reach for one of the feel-good foods in this article; they each help regulate your mood in the long-term, no crash or shame spiral afterwards. How does this work? Let’s explore the connection between your meals and your mood before delving into the top 11 mood-boosting foods you should load up on.
The Connection Between Nutrition & Mental Health
You may already believe in the mind-body connection. But typically when people discuss the mind-body connection, they refer to the physical effects of stress on your body. Rarely do we discuss how what we put into our bodies affects our mental state, but it does.
Take, for example, gut health, which has become an increasingly popular topic in the last several years. It’s been shown that your gut flora can have an impact on your mental health; maintaining a healthy gut, therefore, by eating a healthy mix of veggies, proteins, and fermented foods, can impact your mood.
What’s more, your body requires certain nutrients to help regulate your mood. These include omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and more.
When you don’t get enough of these nutrients, you’re more likely to suffer from mood swings, irritability, or even depression. Mental health issues are complex, and you should always discuss your symptoms with a doctor, especially if you have chronic issues like depression, bipolar disorder, or an anxiety disorder. But for the occasional bad day, moment of stress, or bout of the blues, reaching for the right foods is one way to lift your spirits.
Healthy Eating Habits That Help Regulate Your Mood
Before we dive into the top 11 foods that can help boost your mood, here are some general healthy eating tips to improve your mental state. By following these guidelines, you’re more likely to feel happy, calm, and well-balanced.
- Stay Hydrated. Dehydration can trigger irritability and mood swings; aim to drink at least 64 oz of water per day to stay hydrated.
- Cut down on alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, and the day after swilling back a few too many cocktails can not only make you feel physically hungover, but mentally low.
- Eat smaller meals more often. This practice helps keep your blood sugar levels stable. (Aka: prevents those “hangry” moments when you’re on the verge of freaking out if you don’t eat something ASAP!) Keep blood-sugar spikes and dips from happening, which can cause mood swings.
- Eat complex carbs. No, you’re not just imagining it: bread really will make you happy. Carbohydrates increase the production of serotonin, your body’s feel-good chemical. The catch? Healthy, complex carbs like brown rice or quinoa will do the trick, so no need to go overboard on white, processed carbs that have hidden sugars.
11 Mood-Boosting Foods
Now it’s time to consider some of the best foods to load up on if you want to improve your mood.
Again, we are not physicians and don’t claim that depression or other mood disorders can be “cured” by eating these foods; however, scientifically speaking, these foods all contain essential nutrients your body needs to regulate your mood.
So read on and stock up on these 11 mood-boosting foods that can lift your spirits and promote feelings of happiness.
1. Raw Nuts
The next time you’re feeling low, go nuts! Nuts such as walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, and almonds all help increase levels of serotonin—your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter.
Different nuts also have additional mood-boosting benefits. Brazil nuts, for example, are among the foods with the highest levels of selenium, a mineral which has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
Two handfuls of cashews also contain enough of the amino acid tryptophan to give your brain a feel-good boost. (Tryptophan is converted to serotonin in the body.)
Popeye was onto something with his daily intake of spinach; leafy greens like spinach are rich in a B vitamin called folate, which helps your brain produce dopamine.
Dopamine is a feel-good chemical that’s known for its calming sensation. Make a spinach salad with strawberries, chicken, and chia seeds for a healthy lunch or dinner that gives you servings of several feel-good foods!
3. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt not only helps regulate your mood thanks to its high calcium content, but it also contains good bacteria that keeps your gut healthy.
Plus, it’s a great food that helps keep you full throughout the day; we like to sprinkle granola and berries on top as part of our breakfast or pack a Greek yogurt with cacao nibs and chia seeds for an afternoon snack!
Any type of fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids is a great mood-booster, including salmon. Omega 3’s help fight depression and anxiety, and are crucial for overall brain health.
One four ounce serving of salmon has over 100% of your daily dose of B12, too. (Low levels of B12 have been linked to incidences of depression.) Try our delicious Brown Sugar Honey Marinated Salmon next time you need a new salmon recipe—it’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.
Whether you enjoy them scrambled, over easy, poached, or sunny-side up, eggs are not only a terrific source of protein, but a serious mood-booster.
Eggs are one of the few natural food sources of Vitamin D, a natural mood lifter. (When you’re Vitamin D deficient, you’re likely to feel blue and lethargic.)
Eggs are also rich in magnesium, a nutrient that helps your body cope with anxiety. Be sure to eat the egg yolk, though—that’s where a majority of the nutrients are found.
You probably already know that berries are rich in antioxidants, which keeps your immune system strong and fights off free radicals. But antioxidants also help improve brain and cognitive function, lifting you out of a blue mood.
Berries also contain something called anthocyanidins, which help prevent the release of your body’s stress hormone, cortisol. The next time you’re feeling unwanted stress, reach for a handful of berries; blueberries in particular help help your body counteract any negative impact stress may have on your body.
Chicken and turkey both contain high amounts of tryptophan, which helps your body produce serotonin.
But they also contain another important amino acid called tyrosine, which controls your body’s reaction to stress. What’s more, tyrosine helps build up norepinephrine and dopamine, two of your brain’s mood-boosting neurotransmitters.
8. Cherry Tomatoes
If you’re a tomato lover, you’re in luck! Tomato skin is full of antioxidant called lycopene that fights inflammation-related mood swings and depression.
Since lycopene is found in the skin of tomatoes, cherry tomatoes are a smart choice because they give you more tomato skin per surface area than regular tomatoes…plus, they make for a perfect portable snack.
9. Dark Chocolate
Is there any better news than hearing that chocolate can be good for you? You might already know that dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, but it’s also been shown to improve your mood. And no, we’re not talking about candy bars laden with artificial ingredients, but real dark chocolate that’s at least 70% cocoa.
Eating a few squares of dark chocolate per day can stimulate your endorphins and give you an instant “feel good” boost, while simultaneously helping you de-stress.
Those green stalks do more for your health than you might think. Asparagus is by far the best plant-based source of tryptophan around and also contains a high amount of folate, a nutrient that studies suggest can help combat depression.
Sprinkle some olive oil or parmesan cheese on top for a tasty snack or side you’ll want seconds of.
Oatmeal lovers, rejoice! Oats are not only a great cholesterol-lowering food, but they’re also great for maintaining your energy and mood throughout the day.
Their low glycemic index means that instead of delivering instant energy and a subsequent crash (like a sugary doughnut), oats slowly release their energy into your bloodstream, which keeps your blood sugar and your mood more stable.
Oats are also rich in the mood-boosting nutrient selenium. Start your day with a warm bowl of oatmeal or make homemade granola bars with oats and other natural ingredients.