7 Foods to Improve Your Mood

by Moneika Okawa

There’s no doubt that food has a significant impact on our mood. The mere thought of ordering a cheeseburger following a band performance got me through years of pre-show anxiety. The first bite of a fresh New York-style pizza after a stressful day at work gave me unparalleled joy. The entire chicken pot pie I ate in bed during a heartbreak put me in a state of peace—or more realistically, in a coma. Based on my own harrowing experiences I started to wonder, What foods improve your mood?

As we all know, our moods are constantly affected by a number of factors that occur throughout our lives—many of which are completely out of our control. One thing we can control is the food we choose to consume. As you may have gathered, I used to eat an abundance of tasty, unhealthy food as a temporary escape from my everyday stresses. More recently, I’ve been compelled to explore healthier foods I can eat that may actually help treat my stress symptoms and fight against unpleasant moods.

Here are seven foods to improve your mood and provide lasting health benefits.  

1. Salmon

For: Anxiety

Pictured Recipe: Broiled Salmon with Thai Sweet Chili Glaze

Many of us are consumed by anxiety in our day to day lives. Instead of indulging in fatty foods or copious amounts of wine to temporarily alleviate our worries, try adding salmon into your diet. Based on a review published in the Sept. 14, 2018, JAMA Network Open, researchers found that people who took high doses of omega-3s (up to 2,000 mg a day) appeared to have the most reduction in anxiety symptoms.

While there are several excellent plant-based sources of omega-3s, “the specific form of omega-3 that most strongly boosts mood is found most abundantly in coldwater fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel,” says Dr. Ilardi, Ph.D., author of The Depression Cure. Salmon is my favorite source of omega-3s and one of the most versatile options I’ve found. Try incorporating about two servings a week of wild salmon into your meal plan.

2. Avocado

For: Stress

Pictured Recipe: Grilled Avocado Guacamole

I remember the first time I encountered an avocado. It was in its best form—guacamole. I often like to announce that I liked avocados before they were cool, but no one usually responds. It’s no surprise that avocados generally rank at the top of the list of foods to improve your mood, as they are a great source of vitamins and anti-oxidants. Avocados are a popular, versatile fruit you can incorporate into nearly any meal of the day. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and are known to reduce stress, boost concentration and give us excellent chip dip.

3. Oatmeal

For: Sadness
foods that improve your mood

Pictured Recipe: Protein Rich Oatmeal

We all get a case of “the gloomies” from time to time. While listening to a Simon and Garfunkel album as you stare out the window and contemplate your life will always be a cathartic experience, I also encourage you to make yourself a nice warm bowl of oatmeal and take a brief pause from listening to “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend” on a loop. Oatmeal not only helps your brain generate the neurotransmitter seratonin, it also provides a great source of complex carbs—and it’s no secret that carbs make us happy. In fact, studies have scientifically proven that carbs induce happiness by stimulating the pleasure centers in our brains.

However, as most of us are increasingly becoming more health-conscious, its important to distinguish how different types of carbs affect us cognitively and biologically. Instead of indulging in refined or fast-burning carbs (the delicious kinds) that also rapidly spike our blood sugar, complex carbs like oatmeal are digested at a much slower rate, providing a longer-lasting serotonin boost that may help get you out of “gloomsville” by the end of the album.

4. Green Tea

For: Anger
foods that improve mood

If you need to calm down but maintain a clear mind after a heated situation, brew a cup of green tea. While stronger stimulants with higher contents of caffeine such as coffee may enhance or trigger negative feelings, green tea contains a much milder dose of caffeine as well as theanine which provides calming effects on the body and mind. In addition to the biological benefits of drinking green tea, the actual process of brewing the tea can also be therapeutic and help calm your nerves as you recover from a draining outburst. 

5. Beets

For: Irritability

Pictured Recipe: Easy and Delicious Roast Beetroot

The first image that pops into my mind when I hear “beets” is Dwight Shrute’s face from the NBC series “The Office.” I have never wanted to eat a beet mainly for that reason. However, more recently I started researching foods and supplements that naturally cleanse the liver. Beets not only detoxify the liver, but they also contain the highest plant source of betaine. This lowers C-reactive protein levels, reducing the risk of heart disease and chronic inflammation. In my experience, my most irritable moments occur as a result of unbalanced lifestyle behaviors that put my liver in hyperdrive. Beets are a great way to aid your liver in times of distress which may ultimately mitigate irritability.

6. Brazil Nuts

For: Fatigue

When you’re feeling exhausted, ditch the Starbucks drive-through. Instead of paying for that overpriced, high-caffeinated drink that will give you a four-hour pick-me-up at best, reach for a handful of Brazil nuts that will keep you productive all day. Brazil nuts are tree nuts native to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru. These nuts are energy-dense. They’re also one of the most concentrated dietary sources of the mineral selenium known to support thyroid function. I am a coffee-addict at heart. But Brazil nuts will provide you with long-lasting energy without the hard crash that occurs shortly after that blessed caffeine rush.

7. Leafy Green Salad

For: Unmotivated

Pictured Recipe: Classic Spinach Salad 

Anyone who knows me well, knows about my previous strained relationship with salad. After I reached an age in my professional career where the three-meat sandwiches I habitually ate for lunch caused me to frequently blackout during 2 PM meetings with brain fog, I finally realized it was time to incorporate more greens into my diet. Folate-rich vegetables like spinach and other leafy greens help your body to lower homocysteine levels. These levels interfere with the flow of blood and nutrients to the brain. Impaired blood flow caused by high levels of homocysteine may leave you feeling sluggish or slow to recall information. Spinach and other leafy greens can help maintain steady blood flow. This will give you motivation and increased brain function. You’ll need it to get through those 2 PM meetings and afternoon slumps.

About the Author/s

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Cheese enthusiast and friend to all cats.

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