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Foods to Boost Your Mood!

It’s that time of year again! Winds are a’ blowing, weather is changing and for many of us… the beginning of the winter blues are beginning to set in. While there are several foods that certainly bring a smile to my face (mint chocolate chip ice cream!), it turns out that some foods don’t just please the taste buds; they also stimulate the brain and make us physically happy, too.

So, when we need that mood boost, skip the ice cream and candy bars (sugar actually promotes mood instability) and focus on incorporating these foods into your diet.


One of our favorites! This leafy green is loaded with the B vitamin folate, which has been linked to depression when levels are too low. B vitamins help the brain produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood and behavior.


Turkey has tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to create mood-regulating serotonin and melatonin. Since our bodies don’t produce tryptophan naturally, we must get it from food sources. Vegetarian? Try pineapple, cottage cheese, or lobster.


Researchers at the Massachusetts based McLean Hospital found that rats’ moods improved when given an injection of omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts and ground flaxseeds (they have to be ground for the body to absorb the nutrients) are the best non-animal source of omega-3s.

Milk/Non-Dairy Milk

Milk products and vitamin-fortified non-dairy products (soy milk, almond milk, etc.) are rich in vitamin D, which can increase serotonin production and has been linked to reducing depression in some people. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that vitamin D alleviated some depressive symptoms. Or, take your vitamin D supplement like we recommend!!


Like turkey, soy products such as tofu and edamame have high levels of tryptophan. Soybeans also rank low on the glycemic index, meaning they don’t spike energy levels too quickly and won’t cause a mood crash later.


If you’re not a vegetarian, the best way to get a good dose of omega-3s into your diet is through salmon. Can’t handle salmon? Tuna and herring have a decent amount of the fatty acids as well.


Protein- and fiber-filled legumes like black beans and lentils are also packed with iron, an essential mineral that combats lethargy and gives us energy.


We love this one! Chocolate causes the brain to release endorphins and can boost serotonin levels and it contains compounds, like phenylethylamine, that act as mild stimulants. However, plain old milk chocolate won’t do; opt for 70 percent dark chocolate to ensure maximum health benefits. Got that? Dark chocolate in small amounts, this does not mean 7 Twix Bars to improve your mood.


Foods rich in carbohydrates also affect serotonin levels in the body. However, simple carbs (think white flour as the primary ingredient) increase insulin production so rapidly that the feel-good vibes we get after ingesting them will quickly turn into grumpiness. Stick to whole grains like oats, brown rice, and whole wheat bread, all of which contain B vitamins as well.


Besides being a potassium powerhouse, eating bananas adds a hefty amount of tryptophan to our diets. In a study at Oxford University, researchers found that women recovering from depression who were deficient in tryptophan had a higher chance of regressing back to depressive states. Bananas are a great source of iron, too.


If you can’t remember all of the foods listed above, at least take away this knowledge about the nutrients you can take to put a skip in your step.

Omega-3 fats

Significant work is being conducted in the area of omega-3 fatty acids on mental performance. Of particular interest is the ability of omega-3 fats to be mood lifting and to help possibly alleviate depression. Foods rich in omega-3 fats include: oily fish (salmon, mackerel and sardines), ground flaxseeds, canola oil, walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs

Folic acid and B12

Studies have shown that low blood levels of these vitamins are sometimes related to depression, although no one is exactly sure why. Some scientists believe that these vitamins are used by the body to create seratonin, one of the key neurotransmitters that help normalize mood. Eating a diet rich in these nutrients is important for maintaining mood, even if you do not suffer from depression. Foods rich in folate:  fortified whole-grain breakfast cereals, lentils, black-eyed peas, soybeans, oatmeal, mustard greens, beets, broccoli, sunflower seeds, wheat germ and oranges.  Foods rich in vitamin B12: shellfish (clams, oysters, crab), wild salmon (fresh or canned), fortified whole-grain breakfast cereal, lean beef, cottage cheese, low-fat yogurt, milk (skim, skim plus, 1% reduced-fat) and eggs.

Vitamin D

In the past few years, research has suggested that vitamin D might help relieve mood disorders because it seems to increase the amounts of serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for mood. In particular, vitamin D seems to help the type of depression called “seasonal affective disorder (SAD),” or the winter blues. Foods rich in vitamin D:  fish with bones, fat free and low-fat milk, fortified soy milk and egg yolks. Because vitamin D-rich foods are so limited, it’s often beneficial to take a daily multivitamin which provides at least 400 IU of vitamin D.

Unfortunately, when we are feeling low, the last thing we are craving is flaxseeds and salmon. Usually, we reach for the chips and cookies to satisfy our mood and then end up even more sluggish and moody afterwards!  Now is the time to change that pattern! If we learn to reach for these mood-boosting foods instead, maybe we can banish the blues before they even start.

Sources: http://www.divinecaroline.com; www.joybauernutrition.com; Vicki Santilliano


2 Responses

  1. What do you think of omega 3 from algae capsules instead of from salmon or fish oil? Any recommendations?

    • Omega 3′s from algae are a viable vegetarian option for Omega supplements. In fact, (from what I understand) the original source of Omega 3′s in algae are why fish have omega 3′s in their system. Look for supplements that contain the DHA and EPA Omega’s.

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