The healthiest mood-boosting foods might not always be the first thing on your mind when you find yourself diving into a bowl of ultra-processed foods like greasy chips or crispy fried chicken. These foods may temporarily taste amazing but often leave you feeling less-than-awesome afterward. It’s our biology. Our brains are wired to turn to food to feel better. And the food industry knows how to play us. (At least it tries to by adding some of the worst ingredients into our foods.)
Our bodies actually respond to different types of foods in different ways. And some foods, like those full of “bad” carbohydrates — like white breads and pasta and deep-fried treats — can leave us feeling bloated and down in the dumps. Eating a poor diet is full of cascading effects that damage your mood. And to think that your mood plays no role in your health is a totally myth. A poor mood can actually damage your immune system, slow down weight loss and lead to tension headaches. Ouch.
Luckily, there are others that can actually improve our moods.
Wait, what? It turns out there’s a direct link between what we eat and how we feel. People with depression, for instance, often make food choices that can actually contribute to feeling depression symptoms. (1) Luckily, it’s not all bad news. In fact, there are foods that can help make you feel awesome. These foods infuse your body with nutrients, allowing the brain to produce neurotransmitters that give you a natural high. (2) That’s why you can actually fight depression with nutrition.
The following seven mood-boosting foods are proven to leave you feeling better. Not only that, but they taste great, too. The next time you’re craving a comfort food, turn to these proven mood-boosters instead of empty calories full of science-lab-created ingredients. Let’s take a closer look at nature’s top mood-boosting foods.
7 Foods that Boost Your Mood
Here are some of my favorite happiness-creating, mood-boosting foods:
Avocado benefits are far-reaching, particularly in the brain department. In fact, you’ll find them on nearly every healthy-eating list I create — and with good reason. This superfood is loaded with benefits ranging from protecting your heart to helping with digestion, but it’s also a great pick for improving your mood.
Avocados are natural hormone balancers, ensuring your brain is making the right chemicals needed for keep it feeling great. If I had to recommend just one food to eat to feel happier, this would be it, the mood-boosting avocado. It’s the No. 1 food to eat to feel happier.
Try it: Satisfy your sweet tooth and enjoy all of avocados’ benefits with my Chocolate Avocado Mousse recipe.
Juicy grapes are the ultimate take-along snack, but these powerful little fruits are also handy when you want to feel better. When you look at grapes nutrition, you see they are packed with antioxidants, especially flavonoids, which have been found to affect mood. (3) While you can get some of the antioxidant benefits from red wine, which is made from grapes, alcohol is a known depressant. Keep your spirits up by eating the fruit in its natural state instead.
Try it. This hearty homemade Chicken Salad recipe includes a serving of grapes, but feel free to serve extra on the side.
3. Shiitake mushrooms
This meaty mushroom has more to offer than just taste. Upgrading your normal white mushrooms to this Asian variety brings a variety of nutrients to the table, including vitamin B6. While the entire B vitamin complex family is critical to ensuring our physical and psychological functions operate normally, B6, also known as pyridoxine, is particularly great for improving your mood and feeling good.
Because vitamin B6 impacts the production of serotonin and neurotransmitters, healthy B6 levels are associated with a positive mood and reducing stress naturally. (4a) It’s also been proven to effectively treat mood disorders like depression. (4b) Plus, shiitake mushrooms are a delicious addition to meat-free meals thanks to their texture and ability to soak up sauces and taste. Mmm.
Try it: My Vegan Sushi mixes shiitake mushrooms, cauliflower rice and some tasty veggies for a vegan-friendly sushi that everyone will enjoy.
4. Raw nuts
It’s time to go nuts. That’s because these bite-sized foods are loaded with healthy benefits that will leave you smiling. Nuts are full of serotonin, a feel-good chemical that’s in short supply when you’re depressed. (5)
Nuts are also full of antioxidants and healthy fats. I’m a fan of walnuts, Brazil nuts and cashews — just be sure to be mindful of how many you eat. While they are healthy, nuts are also high in fat and calories, so a handful or two is usually the right amount.
Try it. These Salty Lime Roasted Nuts combine sea salt with maple syrup for a sweet and salty snack you can eat on the go.
Related: Top 9 Nuts and Their Health Benefits
Wild-caught salmon is one of the best foods for both your mood and brain health. This lean protein contains double your recommended value of vitamin B12. Getting enough of this vitamin is crucial to warding off depressing and staying mentally healthy. (6)
One study found that patients with the highest vitamin B12 levels were most successful in combatting depression. (7) Salmon also packs a punch of mood-stabilizing essential fatty acids. These bad boys keep your brain operating in tip-top shape by helping you producing the right chemicals so you can turn that frown upside down. (8)
Try it. This Salmon Stir Fry recipe comes together in minutes and pairs my favorite fish with a heap of fresh veggies.
6. Sesame seeds
Not just a topping, sesame seeds are powerful in their own right. This ancient crop has been keeping happy levels up for thousands of years. Its benefits stem from tyrosine. This amino acid boosts the brain’s dopamine levels, kicking the feel-good hormone into high gear, while balancing out the others. Pretty impressive for such a small seed!
Try it. Sprinkle sesame seeds on salad or in smoothies. You can also roast them and make this Tahini recipe, a delicious alternative to the usual hummus.
Last in this list of mood-boosting foods? Probably the most beloved of berries: the strawberry, which proves the berries are rich in an array of vitamins and nutrients like vitamins A and C and manganese.
Because of this, strawberries serve as a strong line of defense against brain degeneration, while also boosting the happy chemicals your brain produces. And who can argue at how good they taste?
Try it. My Strawberry Rhubarb Chia Seed Pudding is dairy-free, full of berries and makes an excellent breakfast or dessert.