Eat More Mood-Boosting Foods Using These Expert Tactics

We all know that food nourishes our bodies, but is there such a thing as "good mood food" when we need a little happiness boost?

It'll come as no surprise that eating a healthy, balanced diet can benefit our bodies in so many ways. But have you ever thought about how food affects your mood? Sure, we've all turned to carbs like our favorite cookies when we've had a bad day, and we might think of typical comfort foods as mood-boosting because they're easy to make and even easier to enjoy. But can they actually make us feel better?

To set the record straight about the relationship between food and mood, we talked to a few experts about the mood-boosting foods they suggest stocking—and of course, eating—all year long.

healthy nuts, vegetables, fish and fruit on a wooden surface
samael334/Getty Images

Variety Is Key

Diet doesn't just affect our physique, it can also have a major effect on brain function, says Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at Cleveland Clinic and author of National Geographic's What to Eat When Cookbook ($17, Amazon). "Food absolutely has the ability to change your mood," says Roizen. However, there's no single food to look to as a magical mood superfood. Roizen says the best way to improve mental health through food is to maintain a balanced, healthful diet and avoiding processed foods.

Dr. Alison Hermann, psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York Presbyterian says "the brain is the most sensitive of all the organs, and it needs to be supported by the right nutrients like amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats. Having a healthy balance of those nutrients can improve the way your brain works, and having a deficit in one of those things will affect the brain." If you're deficient in key nutrients, it can lead to anxiety, depression, panic, and uncomfortable psychiatric states, she says. In fact, according to a recent study, adhering to a healthy diet might offer some protection against depression.

Hermann says variety is key. She suggests stocking up on brightly colored fruits and vegetables, a wide variety of amino acids, and healthy fats.

Kimchi

Focus on Gut Health

Dr. Sotiria Everett, RD and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine's Nutrition Division at Stony Brook Medicine, says focusing on your gut health can be crucial, and maintaining a healthy balance of gut bacteria can directly influence mood. "Gut microbiome relate to neurotransmitters in the brain, and if you have an imbalance of healthy bacteria it can impact your mood," Everett says.

Hermann agrees, saying, "There is increasing evidence that foods that promote a healthy gut will promote a healthy brain." To improve gut health, Everett suggests focusing on probiotics and natural sources of probiotics like kefir, yogurt, fermented foods like kimchi, and a diet rich in fiber.

Avoid Processed Foods

As it turns out, the foods we think of as comfort foods often have a negative effect on our bodies and minds. "Processed, sugary foods are like a drug," says Roizen. "They trigger an initial euphoria that doesn't last, and we need more and more over time to get the same effect," he says. Everett says eating a pro-inflammatory diet of too much saturated fat, too many processed foods, refined carbs, and sugar can cause chronic inflammation that can impact the brain and lead to mood disorders. Additionally, too many calories that lead to increased weight or high blood pressure could contribute to depression, Everett says.

The Bottom Line

"Overall patterns will show you the best outcome, not a single food," says Everett. Maintaining a well-balanced diet and avoiding processed foods over time will have a positive effect on your brain health and therefore your mood. However, diet is only a piece of the mental health puzzle; though it can certainly help, diet alone cannot treat depression or anxiety.

So what foods should you stock?

  • Foods rich in probiotics such as kefir, yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut
  • Foods high in healthy fats such as salmon, walnuts, cod, and avocado
  • Fiber-rich foods like whole grains and legumes
  • Brightly-colored fruits and vegetables such as spinach, berries, carrots, kale, and bell peppers
  • Foods rich in a variety of amino acids such as quinoa, eggs, and lean proteins

Everett suggests a diet like the Mediterranean diet for long-lasting health and wellbeing.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles