We all know that what we can have a significant impact on the scale, but too few of us realize how the foods we eat can positively or negatively affect our moods. While a sugary soda or greasy potato chips may sound like great choices in a moment of intense craving or extreme hunger, the rush of satisfaction will soon subside, leaving low energy, a foggy mind, and an overall “blah” feeling behind it. That’s because ultra-processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and sugar kickstart a blood sugar roller coaster that leaves us feeling awesome one minute and horrible the next. These foods also increase levels of serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter in the body), but only temporarily. So when your blood sugar starts to dip, it’s likely that your mood will as well, causing you to feel cranky, frustrated, or upset—all while scouting out your next carb ‘”fix.”
This isn’t just theory: Scientific research has shown that there is a direct link between nutrition and depression as well as other mental illnesses. And while that certainly applies to unhealthy foods, that also means that making the right choices can have the opposite effect on your mood. Foods that can help put you in a better state of mind include those that are rich in B vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium, protein, probiotics (good bacteria), and healthy fats. The best part? When you eat these foods, you’ll be doing your body and mind a favor.
Just in case you needed another reason to dig into a bowl of guacamole, you should know that avocado benefits are particularly impressive when it comes to brain health. Avocados are natural hormone balancers, ensuring your brain is making the right chemicals it needs to keep you feeling great. They are also rich in mood-boosting nutrients like monounsaturated fats and folate. So be sure to load up on this delicious fruit, because studies have even found that depressed people tend have lower blood levels of folate, which is a type of B vitamin.
Sardines are one of the highest sources of essential omega-3 fatty acids on the planet, and they are also impressively high in vitamin D and protein. Why is that important? Deficiencies in both omega-3 fats and vitamin D have been linked to mood problems like depression—which is not surprising, since nearly every tissue in the body, including the brain, has receptors for vitamin D.
Plus, vitamin D, which is also considered a hormone, helps to regulate key mood-boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. When it comes to happiness-increasing nutrients, omega-3 fats and vitamin D-rich foods are essential, and sardines are a perfect choice.
If you don’t like sardines, salmon is another healthy option with a similar nutrition profile.
Not into fish but still looking for another great source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein? Look no further than walnuts. As with sardines and salmon, the omega-3 fats in walnuts are vital to the movement of dopamine and serotonin in and out of cells. Without enough of the right kinds of fats in your diet, neurotransmitter function suffers, and many people feel the effects of this through rising feelings of anxiety, chronic stress, and mood swings. As a result, walnuts are a perfect snack if you’re looking to keep your mood as well as your energy up.
The small but mighty blueberry is a mood-boosting fruit that is easy to love. Blueberry health benefits are plentiful, which isn’t surprising since blueberries are one of the highest antioxidant foods in existence today. And when it comes to mood, science has shown that blueberries can actually act as “neuro-protective agents” thanks to their noticeably high gallic acid content. According to researchers, blueberry consumption may actually protect our brains from oxidative stress, degeneration, and neurotoxicity.
If you’re looking to feel mentally well, eating plenty of antioxidant-rich vegetables should definitely be part of the plan. Blueberries are a great start (I love them in smoothies with some coconut milk and Bone Broth Protein), but spinach and other leafy greens are beneficial as well.
That’s because they’re high in folate as well as magnesium, which is a key anti-stress mineral. Keeping your magnesium intake up helps to stimulate serotonin production which has a direct positive effect on mood. Magnesium also contributes to energy production, so eating spinach and other magnesium-rich veggies can help you feel happier and more energized at the same time.
Not only is kombucha fizzy and flavorful, it’s also loaded with mood-boosting probiotics and B vitamins. Like other fermented foods, it also contains beneficial acids, enzymes, and probiotics that are excellent for digestion. 80%-90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, which is made much more difficult with sluggish digestion. But when the digestive system is working optimally, serotonin is more easily produced, and there is also less bloating and faster detoxification. Who wouldn’t feel better in that state of being?
Kombucha is also a great substitute for high-sugar sodas and alcoholic beverages, both of which are well known for their mood lowering effects—especially when you have a few too many.
Tahini is made from sesame seeds that are soaked, toasted, and crushed into a paste. Those sesame seeds are comprised of about 55 percent oil and 20 percent protein so they provide both healthy fats and essential amino acids (the building blocks of mood-helpful protein). Sesame seeds are also a good source of the B vitamin thiamine, along with minerals like magnesium, copper, phosphorus, manganese, iron, and zinc. Who knew that hummus (made from garbanzo beans and tahini) could make you feel so good?