Mood-boosting foods to beat the blues

By Rosemary Black, for MDLinx
Published February 15, 2019

Key Takeaways

When you’re feeling dejected, do you reach for the nearest sugary or salty snack and eat until you’re full? If so, you know firsthand that your mood (good or bad) can definitely affect your food choices. But the reverse is also true: what you eat can actually affect your mood, and certain foods can help you beat the blues.

“Certain foods can boost your mood,” explained Perri Halperin, MS, RD, clinical dietitian, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City, NY. “The best nutritional plan is to eat a varied diet and to incorporate foods that have been shown to improve mood into an already healthy diet.”

How could a food make you feel better emotionally? “Certain foods influence the neurotransmitters in our brain that make us feel good, and thus eating certain foods enhances a person’s well-being,” offered Sharon Zarabi, RD, bariatric program director, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City, NY.

So, what should you be eating in order to feel better? Let’s take a look at eight powerful mood-boosting foods to incorporate into your diet.


Eggs are high in tryptophan, the essential amino acid that “is the chemical precursor your body needs in order to produce the feel-good hormone, serotonin,” noted Tracy E. Crane, PhD, MS, RDN, assistant professor, Nursing, Public Health, and Nutrition Sciences, University of Arizona College of Nursing, Tucson, AZ.  If you don’t have tryptophan, your body can’t produce serotonin. “Serotonin not only makes you feel happy, but it also plays a role in cognition and memory,” Dr. Crane added. Don’t like eggs? Other good sources of tryptophan include fish, shellfish, spinach, dates, and bananas.

Dark chocolate

With high levels of antioxidants, dark chocolate has more health-promoting substances than milk chocolate. “Studies show that dark chocolate with high concentrations of cacao can have a positive effect on stress levels, inflammation, mood, and memory,” Halperin explained. “It stimulates the production of endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that create feelings of pleasure.” And, she added, researchers have learned that eating a little dark chocolate can reduce levels of cortisol and other stress hormones. “But that isn’t license to go cocoa crazy,” she said. “Enjoy in moderation.”


Salmon is an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help ward off depression and boost mood. “The omega-3 fatty acids in fish are absorbed more efficiently than the ones found in plant sources,” noted Kim Larson, RDN, NBC-HWC, BS, health & wellness coach, Total Health, Seattle, WA. In addition to salmon, she recommended consuming trout or mackerel because they are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. And while they may not be absorbed quite as efficiently as fish sources, omega-3 fatty acids are also found in walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, or soybeans, Larson said.


Thanks to the probiotics it contains, yogurt keeps your gut bacteria in check. “Recent studies have linked balanced gut bacteria with better mood, less stress and anxiety, and a lower risk of depression,” Halperin explained. However, you may want to avoid flavored yogurts, which can be loaded with sugar. Instead, opt for plain, so that you can add your own healthy fruit, nut, or seed toppings.


Nuts contain important minerals, such as selenium and copper, that reinforce positive mental health, according to Halperin. “They also contain health-promoting B vitamins and fatty acids,” she added. Try sprinkling walnuts over salads, enjoy cashew butter spread on whole-grain bread, or stir some almond butter into your morning oatmeal.


Indulging in these beautiful berries can definitely help you beat the blues, Zarabi said. “They contain polyphenols, which reduce oxidative stress in the body and help prevent disease,” she added. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and folate, which helps your body to produce mood-boosting serotonin. Enjoy by the bowlful, as a cereal topper, or in pancakes, smoothies, and salad.


Turmeric contains curcumin, which has been shown to have neuroprotective properties on the brain. “Turmeric can enhance mood and help with depression,” Halperin asserted. “And sipping a cup of turmeric tea can be soothing and calming.” According to Larson, turmeric can boost and extend the actions of serotonin so that it acts like an antidepressant.

Green tea

While not technically a food, green tea is rich in L-theanine, an amino acid that can help relax the mind and boost your mood, according to Zarabi. “Drinking green tea can be very relaxing,” she explained. And although it may not be your caffeinated drink of choice, “It doesn’t leave you feeling jittery the way coffee can.”

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