10 Feel-Good Foods To Boost Your Mood

10 feel-good foods to boost your mood

Need a lift? These 10 foods will improve your mood by increasing your feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine.

Feeling a little blue or down in the dumps? You might be feeling this way because of the foods you’re eating. Your diet plays a fundamental role in your emotional health and eating the wrong types of foods can impact your mood and emotional wellbeing.

As tempting as it may be to reach for sugary high-fat treats when you’re feeling low, these foods will only end up making you feel worse. Eating a wholesome diet rich in a variety of nutritious natural foods will deliver important brain-nourishing nutrients that are needed to regulate your brain chemistry to support mood, brain function and emotional health.

Specific vitamins, minerals and amino acids are required for the production of your “feel-good” neurotransmitters, namely serotonin, dopamine and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). These neurotransmitters help enhance our mood and promote optimal brain function. They also assist with sleep and reducing anxiety levels. Deficiencies in these neurotransmitters are associated with the development of depression.

Here are 10 top mood-boosting foods you should be eating as part of a well-balanced diet to best support your emotional wellbeing.

Organic eggs

Eggs are a great source of the amino acid tryptophan. This essential amino acid can’t be produced in the body so it must be supplied through the diet. Tryptophan is used by the body to produce serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for making us feel happy and content. Tryptophan is also needed to produce melatonin, needed for helping us get a good night’s sleep. People will low serotonin levels are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and insomnia.

Egg yolks are one of the richest sources of choline, which is an important nutrient related to the B vitamin family. Choline serves many functions in the body, including being involved in the production of acetylcholine, another important neurotransmitter required for mood and healthy brain and nervous system function.

Egg whites can also have a positive effect on our mood by providing high levels of methionine. This amino acid is needed by the body to make S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe). SAMe is used in the body to make serotonin and dopamine.

Try a mood-boosting breakfast of poached or scrambled eggs with baby spinach and homemade baked beans. Frittatas with baby spinach and diced vegetables is a nutritious lunch or dinner with a side salad.

Wild salmon

Salmon is one the richest food sources of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These healthy fats are extremely important for optimal brain function, memory and mood. Eating a diet containing these omega-3s will help lower your risk of depression and can improve mood.

Current research has shown that people suffering from depression commonly have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Including wild salmon with meals a few times a week is a great way to get a good dose of these beneficial fats.

Salmon is one the richest food sources of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Current research has shown that people suffering from depression commonly have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Salmon is also a good source of vitamin B12. This essential nutrient is naturally found in animal foods and cannot be produced in the body so must be supplied through the diet. B12 helps regulate our mood as it’s also required for serotonin and dopamine production. Vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with mood and sleep disorders, depression and a decline in memory and brain function.

By including salmon in your diet, you will also be improving your tyrosine intake. This important amino acid is a natural dopamine booster. Tyrosine is converted to dopamine in the body. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for creating a positive mood and enjoyment of life.

Oven-baked or pan-fried salmon is delicious served with roasted vegetables and steamed greens or tossed through a salad with plenty of dark green leaves and a good spoonful of fermented vegetables.

Raw cacao

Raw cacao is an ancient superfood known for its a mood-boosting ability. Cacao contains phenylethylamine, the same chemical that’s created in the brain when you’re in love. It has a natural antidepressant effect and can help lift your mood and increase focus and alertness. Cacao also contains theobromine, a naturally occurring phytochemical (also found in tea) that boosts endorphins, your brains pleasure chemicals. These are the same chemicals that are released when you exercise.

Endorphins help reduce anxiety and give you a sense of wellbeing. Cacao will also provide you with tryptophan, an amino acid which the brain needs to make serotonin.

The high levels of flavonoids present in raw cacao have been found to boost blood flow to the brain and reduce inflammation, which can help promote a better mood.

Raw cacao can be added to wholesome baked goods, raw desserts, baked granola, smoothies or a healthy hot chocolate with a little raw honey.

Fermented vegetables

Including fermented vegetables like sauerkraut in the diet is an excellent way to promote a healthy mood by improving gut health. Your gut plays a key role in guarding against the development of anxiety and depression-related disorders. A large percentage of your brain chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine and GABA, are produced in the gut. In fact, around 90 per cent of your serotonin is produced in the gut. Dysbiosis (altered gut microbiome) and gut inflammation have been linked to altered levels of serotonin levels and several mental illnesses including anxiety and depression. Incorporating probiotic-rich foods like fermented vegetables in the diet will help restore normal gut microbiome to improve mood and promote emotional health. Some other probiotic-rich foods that can be added to the diet include yoghurt, kefir, miso, kimchi, kombucha and kvass.

Add a good spoonful of fermented vegetables to your next salad, curry, lentil dal or earth bowl.

Green tea

Researchers have discovered that certain compounds found in green tea can lift the mood, improve focus and help fend off depression.

Green tea’s beneficial effects on mood and cognition are thought to be due to its combination of the amino acid L-theanine and caffeine. L-theanine has a calming effect on the nervous system, which seems to mitigate the negative effects of caffeine like feeling jittery or having difficulty sleeping, while enhancing its positive effects of feeling more alert and focused.

Cacao contains phenylethylamine, the same chemical that’s created in the brain when you’re in love.

Scientists have discovered that L-theanine also has an antidepressant and anti-anxiety effect. L-theanine can help improve mood by increasing brain dopamine, GABA and serotonin levels. GABA is an amino acid which acts as a neurotransmitter that reduces the activity of nerve cells throughout the body. It has a positive effect on mood by making you feel more relaxed, reducing stress levels and helping you sleep. People with depression have lower brain GABA levels.

Always buy a good-quality loose-leaf certified organic green tea that’s free from pesticide residue. To reap the health benefits green tea has to offer, aim to have three or more cups daily. Green tea is also delicious iced with a squeeze of lemon and fresh mint, or a little apple juice and lime.

Legumes

Legumes really pack a punch when it comes to mood-boosting nutrients. Lentils, chickpeas, green beans, kidney beans and other legumes are excellent vegetarian sources of iron. This important mineral plays a role in your emotional health as it’s needed for dopamine and serotonin production. Deficiencies in iron can strongly impact mood and are associated with apathy and the development of depression and anxiety. Iron deficiency is one of the most prevalent nutrient deficiencies worldwide. Females, in particular teenagers and pregnant women, are most prone to low iron levels.

Iron is also required for healthy GABA levels. Improving GABA levels will help promote relaxation to relieve anxiety and improve mood and sleep.

Legumes also supply a good dose of B vitamins which are needed to maintain good mental and emotional health. A good supply of B vitamins through the diet is important for preventing depression as they’re required for the synthesis of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. B vitamins also support the body during times of stress and are needed to produce energy.

Legumes are also packed with other mood-boosting nutrients like magnesium and zinc. Research shows an association between zinc and magnesium deficiency and the development of depression.

Legumes are so versatile. Try making up a batch of hummus to have on hand for a healthy snack with some veggie sticks and wholegrain crackers. Lentil dals with lots of diced vegetables are tasty served with quinoa, brown or cauliflower rice, or kidney bean mix with shredded lettuce, guacamole, corn, diced tomatoes and salsa.

Black pepper

Adding black pepper to meals can also help to elevate your mood. Black pepper contains an active compound called piperine that gives pepper its distinctive pungent taste. Piperine has an anti-inflammatory action and is a potent antioxidant that has been found to protect brain cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Piperine is also known for its ability to reduce anxiety and improve mood by boosting serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain and releasing endorphins.

Bananas

Bananas are one of the best sources of vitamin B6. This important B vitamin plays a role in mood regulation and is necessary for a healthy functioning nervous system. Consuming foods rich in B6 can help reduce depression and enhance mood as they’re necessary for making serotonin, dopamine and GABA. Bananas also contain good levels of the amino acid tryptophan, which is also required for serotonin production.

Keep overripe bananas to make banana bread or put them peeled in the freezer to add to smoothies or to make healthy ice cream. Banana is delicious blended through coconut chia pudding, or added to oat porridge, raw desserts and healthy muffins.

Brazil nuts

The Brazil nut is different from other nuts as it has exceptionally high levels of selenium. This trace mineral is essential for good health; however, it’s only required in small amounts. Just one or two Brazil nuts daily can supply you with more than the daily requirement of selenium.

Researchers have discovered that certain compounds found in green tea can lift the mood, improve focus and help fend off depression.

Evidence shows that a diet low in selenium can lead to a depressed mood, thyroid issues and problems with cognition. Selenium is vital for a healthy functioning thyroid and for the production of thyroid hormones. Changes in thyroid function are known to affect mood and behaviour. Consuming selenium-rich foods like Brazil nuts can help to elevate mood and cognitive function.

This highly nutritious nut also provides plenty of magnesium, zinc and B vitamins, which are all needed for supporting a healthy mood.

Brazil nuts are great to add to a trail mix with some diced sun-dried fruit, roughly chopped through homemade granola, as a topping for porridge or healthy baked goods or added to smoothies. ABC butter (almond, Brazil and cashew) is a nutritious toast spread.

Dark green leafy vegetables

Loading your plate with dark green leafy vegetables is a great way to help lift your mood. Dark green leaves like kale, Swiss chard and spinach are high in folate (vitamin B9). Eating a diet rich in folate and other B vitamins is recommended to help support optimal neurotransmitter production and nervous system health. Folate works together with vitamins B3 and B6 and tryptophan to produce our “feel-good” neurotransmitter, serotonin.

Folate also helps ward off depression by breaking down the amino acid homocysteine in the body and in turn making SAMe. High homocysteine and low SAMe levels are associated with a higher risk of depression. Researchers have recognised that depressive symptoms are often seen in people with folate and B12 deficiencies.

Dark leafy greens also contain good levels of iron and magnesium, which both have a positive effect on serotonin and dopamine levels to boost mood.

You should be aiming to have a good handful of green leaves each day. Add them to salads, stir-fries, frittatas, sandwiches, healthy homemade burgers and pizza and pasta sauces, or to fresh juices and smoothies.

Lisa Guy

Lisa Guy

Lisa Guy is a respected Sydney-based naturopath, author and passionate foodie with 16 years of clinical experience. She runs a naturopathic clinic in Rose Bay called Art of Healing and is the founder of Bodhi Organic Tea.

Lisa is a great believer that good wholesome food is one of the greatest pleasures in life and the foundation of good health. Lisa encourages her clients to get back to eating what nature intended: good, clean, wholesome food that’s nutrient-rich and free from high levels of sugars, harmful fats, artificial additives and pesticides. Her aim is to change the way people eat, cook and think about food.

Lisa is an avid health writer, being a regular contributor to The Sunday Telegraph's Body and Soul, and leading magazines including WellBeing. Lisa is an author of five books to date, including My Goodness: all you need to know about children’s health and nutrition , Pregnancy Essentials, Heal Yourself, Listen to your Body and Healthy Skin Diet .

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