12 Foods That Can Improve Your Mood

 by Maghan McDowell

We all have guilty pleasures; foods that make us feel good for a moment — but very ba-aaaa-d after we’re done.


We all have guilty pleasures; foods that make us feel good for a moment — but very ba-aaaa-d after we're done. And while it's fine to have those occasionally, most of the time your goal should be to take in foods that are not only good for you, but also that keep you happier and more alert – in the short- and long-term. The key? Frequently eating foods shown to improve your mood as part of a well-balanced diet, according to registered dietician Elizabeth Somer. (Just adding one goody to an otherwise poor diet won't cut it.) Somer, the author of "Food & Mood" and "Eat Your Way to Happiness," and other nutrition experts recommend regularly pumping your body with the following 12 mood-boosters.

1. Salmon

People who eat two to three weekly servings of omega-3 DHA rich foods (like mackerel, sardines, herring, salmon) have among the lowest rates of depression in the world, Somer says. Fish also contains folate, linked with decreased symptoms of depression in men, and B12, linked with decreased depression in women. Finally, salmon is also a good source of Vitamin D, which can help combat seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.). Can't eat wild salmon frequently? "There is a lot of research on individual nutritional supplements enhancing mood—specifically, omega-3 fish oils, B vitamins, and several other supplements," says Jack Challem, author of The Food-Mood Solution: All-Natural Ways to Banish Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Stress, Overeating, and Alcohol and Drug Problems — and Feel Good Again.

Related: 13 Fish to Avoid Eating

2. Coffee or Green Tea

Among other health benefits, caffeinated coffee has been shown to decrease the risk of depression in women. Challem also recommends high-quality green tea, which is rich in L-theanine, which has a calming effect on the brain and improves mental focus.

Related: 10 Ways Coffee Could Improve Your Health

3. Vitamin D Supplements

Multiple studies suggest that those who suffer from depression, particularly S.A.D., improve as vitamin D levels increase. "While I always recommend 'food first,' it's very challenging to get enough Vitamin D from food alone," Somer says.

Related: 9 Ways to Get More Vitamin D

4. Berries

Berries —especially blueberries and blackberries— are loaded with anthocyanidins, which are known to boost brain function, Somer says. She recommends a cup of berries several times a week. Nutrient-dense foods like berries are key to providing a sound foundation for brain chemistry, Challem says.

5. Raw Peppers

When raw, both red and green hot chilies and bell peppers are very high in vitamin C, which has shown to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone). High levels of vitamin C are also found in raw fruits like oranges, cantaloupe, papayas and kiwi.

6. Leafy Greens

Have at least a serving or two a day of spinach, kale, romaine, collards, or chard. Among other benefits, these greens are high in folic acid, which, when deficient, have been linked to depression.

7. Water

One of the first signs of dehydration is fatigue, and researchers have found that even mild dehydration alters a person's mood, energy levels and mental function. Drink H2O throughout the day.

Related: How Much Water Should We Be Drinking?

8. Dates

Fruits with a good ratio of tryptophan to phenylalanine and leucine —like dates, papaya and banana— will increase serotonin levels, and thus feelings of happiness. Medjool dates are a nutrient-rich way to satisfy a sweet craving.

9. Shellfish

Shellfish is the richest source of Vitamin B-12, which, when deficient, according to researchers, can result in lethargy and reduced motivation for normal activities. Research has also indicated that extreme deficiency can result in irritability and depression. You can also try a supplement. "The B vitamins are needed to make many neurotransmitters, and the Bs have long been considered anti-stress vitamins," Challem says.

Related: 5 Dangerous Fish, and 3 Safer Seafood Options

10. Air-Popped Popcorn

"It's no surprise that people are irritable during the afternoon when they're hungry and their blood sugar is low," Challem says. Somer recommends a mid-afternoon all-carb snack —like four cups of air-popped popcorn— to raise serotonin levels, which helps relax you and put you in a better mood. But use this trick sparingly; a high-carb, low-protein diet increases serotonin by secreting insulin, which, if repeated over time, may trigger the onset of insulin resistance —and lower serotonin levels.

11. Olive Oil

A recent study concluded that those who ate less fruit, nuts, fish, vegetables and olive oil —and instead ate more fast food and commercial baked goods— are at a greater risk of developing depression. According to another study, olive oil contains anti-inflammatory properties that may help to reduce the progression of depressive disorders.

12. Dark Chocolate

In 2009, researchers found that dark chocolate reduces the level of stress hormones. Another study showed that it produces a natural, opium-like chemical in the brain (enkephalin), which surged dramatically and remained high as long as test rats ate. More recently, researchers found that after eating a sweet (chocolate, again), subjects were more likely to volunteer to help another person; those who had a "sweet tooth" in general were more likely to be labeled as "sweet" overall. "There are some vices that are good for you," Somer affirms. "In moderation, of course."

Related: 2 No-Cook Vegan Dark Chocolate Pudding Recipes

What Do YOU Think?

Do you suffer from bad moods frequently? Have you tried eating any of these foods to improve your mood? Do they work for you? Are there any mood-improving foods that we missed on our list? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Related: 18 Foods With a "Bad" Rap That Are Actually Good for You


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