7 Foods That Will Boost Your Mood, According to Science
There’s lots of data to show that activities like working out, spending some time outside throughout the day, and cuddling with a pet can improve your spirits. As it turns out, what you eat can also have a huge impact on your mood. Whether you’ve been afflicted with the winter blues or find yourself in a funk you just can’t seem to break out of, the items you place in your grocery cart and on your dinner plate can assist.
While no one food is a cure-all, and you should certainly visit a doctor if you think you’re exhibiting symptoms of sadness, there are some foods that have been scientifically proven to offer people a happiness boost. Some of these foods, like Brazil nuts, have components that boost the release of particular feel-good hormones, while other meals, such as coffee, can actually prevent substances that may make you feel bad.
As you may observe, several of the items on this list are also regarded superfoods. They come with a plethora of health advantages that reach far beyond fostering a pleasant mood. In other words, even if you don’t need help shedding the winter blues, these multifunctional meals should be on your radar. Keep reading to find out what meals will increase your mood, according to doctors and scientists.
1. Salmon and Albacore Tuna
Fatty fish, like salmon and tuna contain a lot of omega-3 fatty acids. These are beneficial for your heart and your intellect. “The abundance of omega-3 fatty acids in fish like salmon and albacore tuna may contribute to improved mood and mitigation of depression through the impact of omega-3 fats as anti-inflammatory signaling molecules, and in their structural role in the brain,” explains Casey Means, MD, a Stanford-trained physician and associate editor of the International Journal of Disease Reversal and Prevention. 60 percent of our brain tissue contains fat. So the choices of fat we include into our diet have a big impact on both the construction and function of our brains.
Two specific omega-3s—docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—have been connected with lower levels of depression. According to a 2016 assessment of scientific research, DHA and EPA assist modify the mechanisms of brain cell signaling, including the dopaminergic and serotonergic pathways. In other words, they can increase your mood. If you’re not a lover of salmon or tuna, obtain your omega-3 fatty acids from foods like flaxseeds or tofu.
2. Boost Your Mood With Dark Chocolate
Yes, a chocolate bar can truly help enhance your mood! “Studies have shown that dark chocolate consumption can lower the odds of clinical relevant depressive symptoms, with individuals consuming the highest amount of dark chocolate having 57 percent lower odds of depressive symptoms than those who reported no dark chocolate consumption,” says Dr. Means. This can relate to compounds in dark chocolate called cocoa polyphenols. These are strong antioxidants and may enhance inflammatory profiles. There are also psychotropic chemicals in chocolate, which may induce pleasurable feelings.”
However, while buying for your mood-boosting chocolate, Dr. Means points out that the cocoa content is crucial. “It’s preferable to choose the darkest chocolate you can find, as this will contain the least sugar and the highest cocoa mass (extra sugar and accompanying spikes and crashes can lead to mood lability),” she notes. “I opt for 85 percent or more, and appreciate organic brands such as Alter Eco and Green & Black’s.”
3. Fermented Foods Boost Your Mood
Fermented foods, including sauerkraut, yogurt, and kimchi, may also have a positive impact on your mood and health. These meals contain probiotics, which, according to numerous studies, may boost serotonin levels. This is especially significant since serotonin—sometimes termed the “happy hormone”—is responsible for elevating your mood.
The favorable influence of fermented foods on mood is connected to the strong relationship between gut function and brain health. One study revealed that persons with the highest intake of probiotic foods had significantly decreased odds of depressive severity and self-reported clinical depression. These impacts were stronger in men.
Dr. Means adds: “There are various potential explanations of why this can be the case, including the impact of fermented foods on blood sugar regulation and metabolic health, which impacts mood and the brain. Additionally, the enhanced compounds in fermented foods—unique flavonoids—may positively affect the microbiome to alleviate inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which can negatively impact the brain.”
4. Brazil Nuts Boost Your Mood
Brazil nuts are one of the most potent sources of selenium, which has multiple functional roles in the body. That’s including in the formation of essential immunological and antioxidant proteins called selenoproteins. It also helps the healthy production of thyroid hormones. Per a 2021 study, increasing selenium intake is connected with a decreased prevalence of depression, even after correcting for many factors. The inverse is also true, as selenium deficiencies are common in patients with depression.
“Healthy thyroid function is closely connected in mood, since both hyper and hypothyroidism can have significant mood consequences,” Dr. Means says. “Optimal antioxidant and immunological function is crucial to mood state through ameliorating oxidative stress (which the brain is very susceptible to) and chronic inflammation, both of which can have detrimental impacts on the brain.”
5. Kale and Spinach
Ready to banish those lingering winter blues? Eat your veggies! According to Stacie J. Stephenson, CNS, a board member of The American Nutrition Association, dark leafy greens in particular (think kale, spinach, and Swiss chard) are rich in B vitamins. According to the Mayo Clinic, these vitamins have a role in creating brain chemicals that impact mood and other brain functions. Additionally, low levels of B12 and other B vitamins, such as B6 and folate, may link to depression. If you’re not a lover of dark leafy greens, you can get your fill of B vitamins by eating items like bananas and eggs.
Though it may seem paradoxical, drinking a cup of coffee can help lift you out of a funk. Caffeine could make some individuals feel restless or agitated. It can also block a naturally occurring substance called adenosine from connecting to brain receptors that encourage weariness. This, in turn, boosts alertness and focus, therefore having a beneficial effect on your mood.
Caffeine has also been scientifically confirmed to stimulate the production of mood-boosting neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. However there’s evidence to suggest that coffee’s mood-boosting benefits extend beyond the stimulant. A 2018 study of 72 adults indicated that caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee enhanced people’s mood, compared with a placebo beverage. This shows that coffee may have other components that favorably influence mood as well.
7. Beans and Lentils
Stephenson points out that beans, legumes, and other complex carbohydrates that are slowly digested by the body might lower cravings for less nutritious carbs that can often lead to volatile blood sugar swings, which, as Dr. Means points out, can induce moodiness and irritability. These complex carbs also provide microbiome-enhancing fiber and resistant starch. Such carbs help keep your blood sugar stable and minimizes the chance of mood swings.
Need another excuse to stock up on beans and lentils? Both meals are also good sources of tryptophan, which the body needs to generate serotonin.