How Food Can Improve Our Moods

By Tracy Wright

Coming out of the highs of the holidays, the doldrums of winter can sometimes dampen our spirits. Luckily, there are natural ways to boost our moods with foods that make us feel happier while being healthy too! 


We have heard for years about the health benefits of this irresistible sweet treat – especially the dark chocolate variety – as it contains antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties good for the brain. But the American Academy of Culinary Nutrition (AACN) reports that chocolate contains ingredients like phenylethylamine and anandamide that have been proven “to boost mood and cognition.” 


It’s not just for the holidays! The main chemical in turkey, tryptophan, helps us produce serotonin, which is the same amino acid we produce while exercising, which boosts positive brain function. While tryptophan has been more commonly associated with sleepiness, foods like turkey have been found to reduce signs of anxiety and depression, as reported in a 2016 study published in the journal Nutrients. 


A super healthy food loaded with protein, B12 and vitamin D, eggs can also help with our moods because of the nutrient choline, which helps regulate our nervous system and can help improve mood by producing neurotransmitters, AACN says. Eggs are so versatile that they can be incorporated into any meal or snack, giving you an immediate mood fixer any time. 


Consuming different kinds of nuts is a very healthy habit for the body and mind. Data from a large sampling of adults in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey who consumed about 1/4 cup of walnuts per day had 26% lower depression levels than those who didn’t. Almonds, which have been described as a superfood, are high in tyrosine, “one of the building blocks for the production of dopamine and other mood-associated neurotransmitters,” said One Green Planet. In general, the survey also found that adults who ate nuts “were more likely to have higher levels of optimism, energy, hope, concentration, and a greater interest in activities.” 


Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, sardines, mackerel and tuna, have been shown to lower anxiety. Eating Well reports that omega-3s “alter brain chemicals linked with mood, specifically dopamine and serotonin.” Ohio State University research found that eating 12-15 ounces of fatty fish like salmon a few times a week can reduce stress and anxiety by more than 20%. 

Want a more exotic seafood experience? Try oysters, which famously have a reputation to boost your libido. But they are also high in zinc, which has been proven to stabilize mood and improve sleep, says Eating Well. A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that zinc reduced anger and depression in young women. 


Also known as beans, legumes include lentils, chickpeas and peas, and are high in fiber and protein, which help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, good for maintaining mental stability. Legumes are also a great source of prebiotics, tied to improved gut health and mental health. A recent University of Surrey study found that prebiotics can improve emotional behavior and lower levels of anxiety. 


We know how essential fruits and vegetables are to a daily diet, but they can do way more than just for your physical health! Leafy green vegetables like spinach are high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is an omega-3 fatty acid and improves your mood just like fatty fish do. Leafy greens are also high in magnesium, which can play a part in decreasing stress and improving sleep. A controlled study found that magnesium can help the brain lower anxiety. A Magnesium Research journal article found that magnesium can help control the hormone melatonin and circadian rhythm, which helps regulate our sleep patterns. Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin B6 which can boost serotonin and beta-carotene, which helps reduce free radical damage to brain cells, says Dietetic Directions. 


Fruits like bananas, blueberries and oranges go far in our brain health too. Blueberries contain flavonoids which “help regulate mood, improve memory and protect the brain from aging,” reports Eating Well. Bananas also provide us with serotonin and tryptophan, both proven to help our moods. Oranges’ high levels of vitamin C make us more resilient to stress and reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, says Cates Nutrition. 

Throw in some other foods like seeds, such as chia or sunflower seeds, which are great sources of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, and yogurt, which has healthy bacteria that can improve gut and mental health, and you are on your way to a balanced diet for your body and mind! 


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