16 Mood-Boosting Foods to Help You Feel Your Best
We’ve looked at eight nutrients that can be helpful to your mental health and happiness. And we now know that most of the time, the best source of nutrients isn’t pills — it’s food!
So if you want to feel your best, do you know which foods ARE the best?
Here are 16 of the top mood-boosting foods:
Berries are a favorite antioxidant-containing food for many reasons. One of which is because they help make your brain happy. Studies have shown that the flavonoids in blueberries can improve your mood.
Avocados are rich in B vitamins — particularly vitamin B6. And they’re a rich source of folate. One avocado provides around one-third of your daily folate needs. And when it comes to magnesium, one avocado provides around 15% of your daily needs.
Chocolate’s remarkable effects on human mood are no secret. And now, we are beginning to understand why.
So why is chocolate considered one of the top mood-boosting foods? For one thing, it contains phenethylamine, which triggers the release of pleasurable endorphins. When you become infatuated or fall in love, the brain releases phenethylamine. It also potentiates the action of dopamine, a neurochemical associated with sexual arousal and pleasure.
Another substance found in chocolate is anandamide. (Anandamide comes from the Sanskrit word “ananda,” which means peaceful bliss). This fatty substance is naturally made in the brain. Pharmacologists at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego have isolated anandamide from chocolate. It binds to the same receptor sites in the brain as cannabinoids like THC — the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana. As a result, it produces feelings of elation and exhilaration. (If this becomes more widely known, will they make chocolate illegal?)
As if that weren’t enough, chocolate also contains polyphenols, which have been shown to have a positive impact on mood. This has led researchers to suggest they be studied more for their role in depression therapies. Darker chocolate contains more polyphenols.
(Sadly, some of our chocolate today comes from unsustainable and exploitative conditions. For more on the chocolate-slavery connection, and how to find ethical options, check out this article.)
5) Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Lion’s Mane mushrooms have the remarkable ability to synthesize the peptide “nerve growth factor” (NFG). NFG is necessary for the growth and survival of brain neurons, and it contributesto mood improvement. It may also reduce your risk of depression.
For more on the health benefits of this mood-boosting food and other medicinal mushrooms, click here.
6) Green Tea
While technically a drink, green tea deserves a spot on the list of mood-boosting foods. Green tea has many benefits. Research has linked it to lower rates of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and many other ailments.
One type of green tea, matcha, is a particularly rich source of the amino acid L-theanine, which can help you to relax and maintain a calm demeanor. (Here are six science-backed reasons to drink matcha.)
7) Brazil Nuts
Low dietary selenium has been shown to increase the risk of depressive disorders. And researchers suggest that selenium-rich foods could be beneficial for primary prevention.
Did you know that a single Brazil nut can provide twice your daily selenium needs? Because they are such a potent source of selenium, it’s usually recommended not to eat more than four or five Brazil nuts per day to make sure you don’t get a selenium overdose!
Fermented foods, such as tempeh, miso, natto, and sauerkraut, support healthy gut bacteria. (For more on how to make the best use of probiotics, click here.)
9) Dark Leafy Greens
The term “folic” comes from the Latin word folium, which means leaf. Why am I telling you this? Because dark, leafy green vegetables are one of the best places to find folate! They’re also rich in magnesium, which can help reduce anxiety and depression.
Chickpeas contain folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, fiber, and phosphorus. And a single cup of chickpeas provides over 50% of the daily value for vitamin B6.
Broccoli is rich in chromium, which can increase your body’s levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and melatonin. Because chromium works directly with mood regulators, it has been found to be an effective treatment for depression.
Quinoa is a complex carbohydrate. Because it’s rich in protein and fiber, it can help stabilize blood sugar levels. It also contains B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and amino acids that contribute to the production of serotonin. (And low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression.)
A 2008 study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that low sodium, high potassium diets had a positive impact on mood.
Though there is no RDA for potassium, it’s often recommended that you get around 1600-2000 mg per day. One banana can provide over 450 mg. Bananas are also rich in vitamin B6, which your body needs to synthesize serotonin.
Zucchini is high in mood-boosting folate, fiber, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. Want to increase your fiber intake? Try eating zucchini with its skin left on.
Coffee is well-known for providing a happy feeling after you drink it. That’s one reason it’s such a popular way for many people to start their morning.
In 2015, researchers reviewed all the available research on the consumption of coffee and tea and risk for depression. In total, they looked at 346,913 individuals and 8,146 cases of depression. What did they find? There was a peak protective effect against depression for those who drank around 400 mL/day of coffee (just over 1 ½ cups).
Why could this be? The caffeine in coffee stimulates dopamine. And dopamine is the neurotransmitter that produces the feeling of euphoria.
Coffee is also a vasodilator, which means it causes your blood vessels to expand. This is good for your circulation. And it has a particularly positive effect on your brain — and perhaps, your mood. In addition, coffee is the #1 source of antioxidants in the American diet — something your brain definitely won’t complain about getting. (For more about the benefits of coffee, check out this article.)
Why Sugar and Fast Food Can Make Your Mood Worse
We’ve known for some time that there’s an association between added sugars and unhealthy fats with an increased risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, obesity, and many other ailments. But now we’re learning that they’re also bad for your mental and even your emotional health.
A 2012 study published in the Public Health Journal looked at fast food consumption and depression. Compared to those who ate little to no fast food products, people who ate fast food at least twice a week were 51% more likely to develop depression.
And while it can bring short-term pleasure, in the long run, sugar seems to be especially bad for your mood. Studies have shown that it increases the risk of mood disorders and depression.
The Whitehall Study II looked at the diets and health conditions of 8,000 people over 22 years. Researchers found that men who ate 67 or more grams of sugar per day were 23% more likely to have a depression diagnosis in a five-year period than men who consumed 40 grams or less.
Beverages are one of the most under-recognized sources of added sugars in the modern diet. And now we’re learning that they can have a major impact on mental health.
A 2014 Japanese study reviewed dietary patterns and self-reported depression levels of more than 260,000 participants. Researchers found a dramatic increase in rates of depression amongst participants who drank the most sweetened beverages. Diet soda drinkers, however, had even worse outcomes than regular soda drinkers. Meanwhile, coffee and tea drinkers fared the best — particularly when they drank their coffee or tea unsweetened. (Here are five healthy beverages you should be drinking.)
The Value of Veggies
Like a car, your brain functions best when it’s given the highest quality fuel. But while cars perform best on gasoline, your brain performs best with a diet based on plants.
In one of the largest studies ever conducted on food and happiness, researchers collected dietary data from 80,000 people in Great Britain. Those who ate more fruits and vegetables (seven to eight servings a day) reported much higher life satisfaction. (This was after adjusting for employment, marital status, income, education, and illness.)
And when it comes to mood, it looks like vegetarians may have a particular leg up. In a 2012 study published in Nutrition Journal, 39 omnivores were randomly broken into three groups for two weeks. The first group ate a diet that included meat, poultry, and fish. A second group ate a vegetarian diet plus fish. And a third group was strictly vegetarian.
Over the two weeks, the omnivorous and fish groups reported little change in overall mood. But the vegetarian group reported a more positive mood state. In fact, several participants experienced dramatic improvements. Observational studies have come to a similar conclusion. Compared to omnivores, vegetarians report a significantly more positive mood, with less depression and anxiety.
The human brain is extraordinarily complex. And we have much more to learn about how it works, and about how different foods impact your physical and mental health. But it doesn’t take any more studies to see the pattern. A diet based on whole plant foods and low in added sugars and unhealthy fats is good for your health AND your happiness.
So next time you’re feeling blue, try showing your body — and your brain – some love by reaching for greens (or any of the mood-boosting foods). Your world just might change for the better.
And you might even turn a frown upside down.
Tell us in the comments:
What are your favorite mood-boosting foods?
Have you found natural solutions to help with stress, anxiety, or depression?