With the colder months on the horizon, it’s time to hunker down. But one of the best ways to combat the winter blues? Focusing on incorporating healthy foods into your diet that support brain function. Let’s check out some of the best mood-boosting foods and how you can incorporate them into your diet and reap the health benefits.Jump to Recipe
What Foods Can Make You Feel Happy?
Let’s talk holistically. It can be tempting to overdo it when it comes to packing your diet with one or two foods you read can give you an instant mood boost. But that’s not the way nutrition works. Mood-boosting nutrients are a part of a balanced diet that relies on lean protein, fiber, complex carbs, and various vitamins and minerals. The best way to enhance your mood in the short term is to eat a meal that combines complex carbs, lean protein, and colorful produce. The healthier your body is, the better your odds of a good mood.
Consuming a diet based on whole, unrefined foods with enough protein, healthy fat, and fiber helps to keep blood sugar stable after meals, which has been linked to improved mood and anxiety. On the flip side, eating foods without a lot of nutrients can lead to deficiencies. A diet low in nutrients will affect every aspect of your overall health, brain health, and mood included. Nutrients essential to a healthy mood and general wellness include:
- Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA)
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
Mood-boosting Foods to Add to Your Balanced Diet
What are some of the best mood-boosting foods that contain all these elements? Here are a few of our favorites!
Albacore tuna, salmon, and mackerel are all considered “fatty fish” because they contain significant Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are promising natural treatments for mood disorders, but we need more research is needed regarding how they work and how effective they really are. But adding fatty fish to your diet is still a great idea due to their high nutrient densities. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish (particularly fatty fish) per week.
Garlic Basil Salmon
- baking sheet
- aluminum foil
- 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large salmon filets fresh, not frozen
- 2 Tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3-4 fresh basil leaves
- 1 tsp Trader Joe's everyday seasoning
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 375°F
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil
- Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the baking sheet and spread around with a brush
- Add your salmon filets to the baking sheet
- Spread 2 teaspoons of olive oil evenly over the top of the salmon filets, then spread 1 Tablespoon of minced garlic over each. Don't be afraid to add more, I usually cover the entire surface.
- Chop or tear 3-4 fresh basil leaves and evenly distribute over the salmon, then season with Trader Joe's Everyday Seasoning, salt, and pepper.
- Bake in the oven for 24 minutes. If your filet is on the thinner side (1/2 lb or lighter), reduce the cooking time 2-3 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and enjoy with your favorite sides! I love to eat my salmon with crispy Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes!
Sauerkraut, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, miso, kombucha, and pickled foods are all delicious additions to meals. Fermented foods are excellent sources of probiotic bacteria. These support gut health by balancing the presence of harmful bacteria living in the gut. Studies suggest that fermented foods can influence the release of serotonin, which boosts your mood. Fermented foods also result in magnified antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Here are some tasty ways to add fermented foods to your daily menu:
- Add a little sauerkraut or kimchi to breakfast burritos or scrambles.
- Add a forkful of fermented veggies to lunch wraps and sandwiches.
- Add some kimchi or sauerkraut to grilled cheese sandwiches.
- Make tofu soup with fermented miso paste.
- Add sauerkraut to coleslaws, potato salad, or sausages
Nuts and Seeds
Almonds, cashews, peanuts, brazil nuts, walnuts, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds are all great options. Nuts are densely packed with fiber, protein, and healthy fats, all of which work to improve your health and mood. Try to get about 1 ounce a day of mixed nuts. Just keep track of calories. They can add up quickly.
While nuts are great on their own, they’re also a dynamic ingredient. Here are some of our favorite ways to incorporate more nuts into your diet:
- Add them to hot or cold cereal for a nourishing breakfast.
- Sprinkle chopped almonds on top of a low-sugar yogurt.
- Use nuts instead of croutons in salads or soups.
- Add slivered almonds to chicken or desserts.
- Add nuts to baking like bread, pancakes, waffles, or muffins.
- Add flavor to steamed veggies with a handful of nuts.
Spinach, kale, swiss chard, and arugula are all excellent choices for leafy greens. Dark leafy greens are especially rich in B vitamins. According to the Mayo Clinic, these vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Additionally, low levels of B12 and other B vitamins, such as B6 and folate, may be related to depression. If you don’t love dark leafy greens, bananas and eggs are other excellent sources of B vitamins.
Wondering how to incorporate more leafy greens into your diet? Here are some of our favorite ways to use them in recipes:
- Chop kale or spinach finely and add to sauces.
- Spinach or arugula make great fillers in pesto.
- Add chopped greens to a stir-fry near the end of cooking. They should still be dark green but semi-wilted.
- Add greens to vegetable soups, stews, or chili.
- Fold cooked greens into an omelet or frittata.
- Instead of iceberg lettuce, try arugula, baby spinach, mesclun mix, watercress, or baby mustard greens on salads and sandwiches.
Oats, barley, and quinoa are tasty whole grains that can make a hearty addition to any meal or snack. Choosing whole grains and high-fiber foods instead of refined sugar and flour products is good for your body, brain health, and blood sugar control. Blood sugar-stabilizing foods can help regulate secretions of mood-boosting neurotransmitters. Women should get 25 grams of fiber daily, while men need 38 grams, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Here are some of our favorite ways to get more whole grains into your diet:
- Trade white flour tortillas for whole-wheat versions.
- Swap white rice for quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, barley, or bulgur.
- Add wild rice or barley to soups, stews, casseroles, and salads.
- Add whole-grain bread crumbs to ground meat or poultry.
Lentils, quinoa, oats, chickpeas, apples, pumpkin seeds, and strawberries are all excellent sources of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates found in whole foods can increase the production of the feel-good chemical serotonin in your brain.
Looking for ways to incorporate more complex carbs into your diet?
- Swap out your cereal. For breakfast, skip the sugary cereal and have steel-cut or old-fashioned oats (not instant). You could also try a cold cereal that lists a whole grain first on the ingredient list and is low in sugar. Less than 8 grams of sugar per serving is a good rule of thumb.
- When choosing bread, look for bread that lists whole wheat, rye, or some other whole grain as the first ingredient.
- Instead of bread or a tortilla, try using a whole grain like quinoa or brown rice in a salad bowl.
- Choose whole fruit instead of juice. When you eat whole fruit, you get more fiber and less sugar.
- Rather than fill up on potatoes, choose beans, chickpeas, or other legumes for an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and protein.
Common “lean” proteins include fish, beef, chicken, turkey, tofu, beans, eggs, and unsweetened yogurt. Lean protein consumption has been linked to higher levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. These essential brain chemicals affect your mood, motivation, and concentration. The amino acids in proteins are one of the main factors in their importance in nutrition and brain health. If you’re not sure how to incorporate more lean protein into your diet, here are some ideas:
- Add unsweetened yogurt to your smoothies.
- Top your salad with grilled, lean protein like chicken, salmon, or turkey
- Have “breakfast for dinner” with veggie omelets!
- Swap out beef for chicken in your tacos
We all know that chocolate has the potential to turn your day around. And if you don’t, we highly recommend giving it a try next time you’re having a rough day. But there may be more to this phenomenon than anecdotal evidence. One study’s findings indicate that dark chocolate (85% cocoa or higher) exerts prebiotic effects. It helps restructure the diversity and abundance of intestinal bacteria. We certainly don’t need to tell you that the most delicious way to consume dark chocolate is a little treat after a nutrient-rich and balanced meal. But you can also:
- Melt it down and drizzle it over your oatmeal or homemade granola bars
- Add it to a red chili
- Add chopped cocoa nibs to your chia seed pudding or smoothie bowl
- Try a dark chocolate pistachio bark as a treat
Add Mood-Boosting Foods to Your Diet to Feel the Difference
Now that you know all the benefits of vitamins and nutrients that you can find in mood-boosting foods, you’re ready to start your wellness journey. What are some of your favorite recipes to get all your mood-boosting nutrients? Share them with us on social at @getfamilyapp!
*note: This article does not contain professional medical advice. Any mental health concerns should be addressed with a mental health professional.