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18 Staple Foods that Boost Your Mood

Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

Table of Contents

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The right diet can help you feel better. Hence, it’s crucial to be selective about what you eat, as only a handful of foods can help you reduce stress and anxiety. 

The best foods for a good mood contain compounds that boost neurotransmitters or chemical messengers that stabilize your mood. These include the amino acid tryptophan, B vitamins, polyphenols, and more.

Here are 18 mood-enhancing foods accessible to everyone. 

  1. Apples

When people say that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, they aren’t just talking about this fruit’s positive effect on physical health. Apples are packed with nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber that protect you from chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

But on top of these essential chemical substances is malic acid – a fruit acid primarily found in apples. Malic acid is known to improve mood by helping reduce pain and soreness. 

In fact, a 2018 study shows that pharmacotherapy treatment, which includes the introduction of malic acid among patients with chronic fatigue, has been effective in managing inflammation.   

Due to their low glycemic index (GI), apples are also ideal for people with diabetes mellitus as a source of complex carbohydrates. Studies have strengthened the link between diabetes and mental health problems like depression, especially in the US. 

  1. Asparagus

Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamins K and C, as well as folate and fiber, that help fight off depressive symptoms. But it’s also rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that boosts serotonin. 

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, dubbed the “happy hormone,” and regulates mood, sleep, digestion, blood clotting, and sexual drive (libido). A boost in serotonin helps you be more focused and calm. 

Although it is widely believed that low serotonin is associated with depression, recent studies show zero molecular evidence to support the theory. Nonetheless, what remains true is that depression is linked to collective chemical imbalances that involve irregular serotonin production. 

  1. Avocados

Another great source of tryptophan is avocado. It’s also rich in folates which combat conditions like iron-deficiency anemia and vitamin B9 deficiency – conditions that could impact anxiety levels. 

On top of that, avocado has healthy fats in the form of omega-3, which is popularly known to improve heart health and brain functions.

All these nutrients make avocado one of the best foods that help with mood enhancement. That said, its increasing popularity as a breakfast staple brings plenty of benefits to your health. So, don’t think twice when making that avocado toast in the morning. 

  1. Bananas

Bananas are a great gateway choice if you’re never a fan of fruit. It’s packed with all essential organic nutrients and has proven to aid in weight loss, heart health, digestive distress, and recovery. 

But what makes it a part of mood-enhancing foods is its high levels of tryptophan. And as you may already know by now, this amino acid helps produce serotonin, which regulates mood. Plus, it also aids in producing melatonin – the primary hormone that enables you to get good sleep. 

Aside from the clear health benefits, bananas are also economical and readily available in the market. It’s hard to miss it in the food store, so just grab a bunch when you do the groceries. 

  1. Bell Peppers

People with vitamin C deficiency receive recommendations on increasing their consumption of foods rich in ascorbic acid. One of them, bell peppers, also play a crucial role in lifting your mood. 

Aside from vitamin C, bell peppers also have high vitamin 6, which helps in serotonin production and the regulation of the hormone norepinephrine – which is involved in your “fight or flight” response. 

Bell peppers usually go with many recipes. For example, you can mix them with many types of protein. Or, you can also eat them raw to enjoy their crispy and mildly spicy state. 

  1. Berries

When it comes to sources of antioxidants, berries like raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries go on top of the list. As food for good mood, they also aid in the production of serotonin.

Berries have high levels of anthocyanins and other polyphenols that boost the release of serotonin and enhance cognitive functions. As a result, your memory improves, and you become more alert and focused. 

Since fresh berries can be pricey, you can turn to their frozen counterpart if you’re on a tight budget. Most frozen berries retain their nutrients, including polyphenols. You can make them into smoothies or mix them on oatmeal, yogurt, and other dishes. 

  1. Chickpeas

Vegan diets often include chickpeas or garbanzo beans, considering it’s a rich plant-based source of protein. As far as mood-lifting foods go, chickpeas contain high levels of tryptophan for serotonin production. For every cup of chickpeas, you get 139 mg of tryptophan

You can prepare chickpeas in various ways. You can roast it for snacking or mix it with soup, stews, salads, and other dishes. Chickpeas are also the main ingredient for hummus – a popular savory dip for vegans and vegetarians.  

  1. Chocolate

A food for good mood, chocolate has long been considered a staple go-to for people who are feeling blue. But it’s not simply its decadence that makes it perfect for mood elevation. 

Chocolates are packed with phytochemicals that a recent study dubbed as critical components of its “mood pyramid.” These include flavonoids, methylxanthines, and alkaloids that help boost neurotransmitters. 

However, consuming chocolate, particularly commercial products, should be regulated. While cocoa, the main ingredient for chocolate, has many health benefits, adding other ingredients can make it less ideal for your health.

For example, sweetened chocolates have high sugar and fat content through the inclusion of butter and confectionery. To gain the benefits of this mood-enhancing food, stick to dark chocolates with fewer or even zero additives. 

  1. Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits, like oranges, grapefruits, lemons, etc., contain high levels of vitamin C. In a 2018 study, a clinical trial measuring the impact of high vitamin C consumption on male students aged 18 to 35 showed that it could improve mood disturbances. 

While citrus fruits, as a whole, have elevated vitamin C, you can benefit the most when eating oranges. When compared with the others, it shows that oranges have the highest concentration of vitamin C at 58.30 mg/100g

Additionally, vitamin C strengthens immunity against diseases and lessens inflammation triggers. Inflammation is a natural reaction to conditions like inflammation, causing pain and soreness, which drastically degrades your mood.

  1. Fermented Foods

The relationship between gut bacteria and brain function has long been an interest of several studies. Primarily, the gut microbiota is responsible for the majority of serotonin production.  

For example, a 2022 study published in Frontiers in Nutrition highlighted how commonly consumed fermented foods lower the symptoms of anxiety and depression

Thus, fermented products like yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi are classified as some of the best foods for mood enhancement. Aside from maintaining a balanced gut microbiota, fermented foods also ensure proper function of the neurotransmitter dopamine – the neurotransmitter that triggers the feeling of getting rewarded. 

  1. Green leafy vegetables

Packed with nutrients, green leafy vegetables best represent the organic sources of many nutrients. As part of foods that help with mood, vegetables like spinach, watercress, lettuce, kale, chard, and arugula contain folate and magnesium that help alleviate anxiety and boost your mood.

Consider including generous amounts of green leafy vegetables in your meals. Not only are they healthy, but these vegetables are also economical. Plus, you have plenty of options when it comes to food prep. For example, you can mix spinach into multiple dishes and make different types of salad with lettuce. They are also widely available in the market and grocery stores. 

  1. Lentils 

Lentils have concentrated nutrients and gained preference from people who are conscious about their health. Aside from its low in fats and sodium, it has high amounts of polyphenols and fiber. 

It is also considered a food for good mood as it contains folates and other types of vitamin B. These nutrients are known to boost serotonin and other neurotransmitters that improve mood. 

You can prepare lentils in various ways. The most popular one is mixing them with other vegetables in a soup. You can also bake them, toss them into a stir fry, or even make them a substitute for meat in dishes. 

  1. Nuts and Seeds

Most vegan diets include nuts and seeds as healthy plant-based snacks and protein sources. Soybeans, peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, peas, sunflowers, and the like contain high levels of tryptophan that help lift your mood.

Dried pumpkin and squash seeds, for example, have 164 mg of tryptophan for every ounce; chia seeds have 124 mg, sesame seeds with 105 mg, and butternut contains tryptophan at 104 mg.  

  1. Oats

Oat, especially in its natural form, is not just considered a superfood but a mood enhancer as well. It has beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that prevents cholesterol absorption in the body – protecting you from heart disease and conditions that interfere with the production of neurotransmitters. 

In addition, the low glycemic index of oats helps maintain normal blood sugar levels. Growing evidence suggests that fluctuations in blood glucose impact your mood. Also, a 2019 study has shown that too much consumption of sugar leads to fatigue and reduced alertness.

The simplest way to enjoy oats is to have them for breakfast. Oatmeal, for example, is easy to prepare and can be paired with fruits and some of the other best foods for mood enhancement. Combine with sliced bananas, dark chocolate, berries, and chia seeds. You can also do overnight oats using rolled oats for maximum health benefits.

  1. Oily Fish

Fatty or oily fish brings tons of benefits, especially for your heart health, thanks to its high omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients help lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides, preventing stroke and cardiovascular diseases. 

Additionally, omega-3 boosts brain function and aids in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. While the mechanism and causality are yet to be solidified, clinical trials uncovered that low omega-3 fatty acids contribute to the development of mood disorders.  

Three of the best oily fish with high omega-3 fatty acids include the following:

  1. Salmon

One of the most versatile and crowd-pleasing choices of fish is salmon. It has spiking omega-3 fatty acids, ranging from 1,774 mg to 4,504 mg for every 6 ounces of serving and depending on whether it’s caught in the wild or farmed. 

You can prepare salmon to a crisp by pan-searing, have it baked, poached, or mixed in green salads. Serve it as part of your regular meals, and spice it up with garlic and lemon for special occasions. 

  1. Tuna

Tuna is another excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein. It also has high levels of vitamin B12, which contributes to the production of red blood cells (RBCs). 

Although tuna is popularly associated with sushi, in which it is prepared raw, you can use tuna in many dishes. The simplest of which is using it as an ingredient for a sandwich. 

  1. Sardines

When it comes to sources of omega-3, sardines may not come to mind immediately. But as a matter of act, sardines contain high levels of this fatty acid. They also have the lowest levels of mercury compared to tuna and other large fish. On top of that, sardines are relatively cheaper and broadly available in the market. 

Did You Know? Vegans need to exclude fish from their grocery list, which means they could miss out on the nutrients it contains. Nevertheless, there are plant-based alternatives. However, you should prepare yourself for this change and more. Read our guide on essential things to know before going vegan

  1. Potatoes 

Growing evidence suggests that Vitamin B6 can reduce stress and anxiety, which, by extension, lifts mood. In line with this, one of the staple foods rich in vitamin B6 is potato. A medium-sized potato has about 0.6 mg of vitamin B6 which is approximately 10% of the provided daily intake. 

Not only are potatoes great for activating serotonin, but they are also versatile in terms of meal preparation. However, keep in mind that some cooking methods involving potatoes can reverse their health benefits. For example, if you a fan of deep-fried potato wedges or fries, you may be risking your heart health, compromising its mood-enhancing ability. 

  1. Shellfish

Zinc is one of the many nutrients proven to improve mood disorders. And one of the many sources of concentrated zinc is shellfish, which include shrimps, mussels, oysters, clams, and crabs. 

However, shellfish consumption should also be regulated – much like other seafood. For one, shellfish may contain heavy metals like mercury, absorbed from their environment. 

  1. Turkey and Chicken

Much like the other mood-enhancing foods on the list, turkey and chicken contain high amounts of tryptophan – the amino acid that doubles as a serotonin booster. Poultry, in general, has approximately 250 to 310 mg of tryptophan for every three ounces of serving. 

Chicken and turkey meat are leaner than pork or beef. Still, if you want to get the most out of these poultry meats, go for the right parts and quantity. For example, the chicken breast cut contains less fat and has been deemed ideal for those adopting a healthier diet.

In addition, avoid overeating chicken and turkey if you don’t want to fall into a food coma. During Thanksgiving, you may feel tired after eating tons of turkey meat. This is attributed to tryptophan which makes you sleepy when absorbed in high amounts.

Did You Know? Americans consume an average of 3,000 calories during Thanksgiving sharing a traditional meal that includes turkey, potatoes, stuffing, pie, and more. Find out if you can gain weight from Thanksgiving alone and what you can do to protect your digestive health before and after the holiday. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I boost my mood naturally?

Being selective about your food helps improve your mood, but it’s not the only practical way to do it. In fact, it’s only a small part of what you can do to boost your mood naturally. On top of eating mood-lifting foods, make sure to exercise regularly, get enough vitamin D from sunshine exposure, connect with friends, and practice self-care

What foods are good for depression?

Fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and seafood constitute some of the diets tailored for depression and anxiety. These foods provide the necessary nutrients to boost neurotransmitters that stabilize mood, like serotonin and dopamine. While depression requires a proper clinical examination, ensuring your healthy diet goes a long way compared to when you turn to unhealthy foods for comfort

What vitamins improve mood?

Vitamin B12 and B6 are known to be two of the essential vitamins that help improve mood. In addition, b vitamins promote healthy brain functions and maintain the balance production of key neurotransmitters. These vitamins also play crucial roles in blood cell formation, normal nerve functions, and blood glucose stabilization. 

Bottom Line

The best foods for your mood include those that have long been dubbed as the healthiest choices – which means when you include the ones mentioned above in your diet, you don’t simply lift your mood, but you also ensure wellness in other aspects of your health. On the other hand, if your mood swings have been unusually frequent, you may want to consult a healthcare professional

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