What you choose to eat and drink enters your body and affects your whole being. Sugary foods can cause you to develop cellulite, a cup of coffee can kickstart your day (or keep you awake at night), and chocolate can instantly make you happy. That’s how powerful food is.

Certain foods contain nutrients or chemicals that affect how the brain functions and, as a result, affect your mood. Some foods can improve focus, ease mild depression, and increase your energy levels, while others can make you feel crappy.

If you feel gloomy or are in a foul mood, it won’t hurt to eat the right foods to improve your mood. Read further to know what food or diet can help you improve your mood. 

How Can Food Affect Your Mood?

You may wonder how the food that goes into your gut can affect your mood. Fun fact: 90% of the serotonin receptors are found in the stomach. The serotonin receptors regulate the release of serotonin and other neurotransmitters like dopamine and acetylcholine, significantly affecting a person’s mood.

Serotonin is a chemical in the brain responsible for regulating happiness, anxiety, and mood. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, mood swings, and anxiety disorders. In simple terms, what goes in the stomach communicates with the brain.

The Connection Between Diet and Depression

Studies show that maintaining a healthy gut by sticking to a balanced diet lowers the risk of developing depression. The Mediterranean diet has been seen to fight against depression.

Also, some foods contain nutrients that can help prevent and treat mild depression. Foods like mussels, oysters, salmon, spinach, watercress, cauliflower, romaine lettuce, and strawberries can help prevent depression.

However, always remember that eating the right foods is only part of the solution to preventing or treating depression. Other means to prevent mental health problems include exercising, having the right coping mechanism, receiving support from your loved ones, and counseling or therapy.

Suggested Foods and Diet for a Better Mood

Following a strict and healthy diet may be hard for some. In fact, it may be costly too. This is better compared to eating crappy foods that can affect your health in the long term. But remember, we only got one body, and our body is our temple. Remember the famous line of Joey in friends, “A moment in the lips, forever on the hips”.

Try to adjust your diet and your whole family to be in great physical health and be in a better mental state. If you or a loved one is experiencing feelings of anxiety or depression, try these foods and diet to promote a better mood. 

1. Eat Healthy Carbs

The connection between carbs and improved mood is all about the non-essential amino acid called tryptophan. Although foods containing carbohydrates do not contain tryptophan, they do cause insulin to be secreted in the body. In turn, insulin supports the transportation of tryptophan to the brain.

As more tryptophan enters the brain, serotonin is synthesized in the brain. Serotonin is a mood regulator that makes a person happy and reduces anxiety. So eating carbohydrates is actually good for improving one’s mood.

If ever you’re worried about gaining weight by eating too many carbs, you can always eat smart carbohydrates like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Don’t avoid carbohydrates. Just eat smart or less. 

2. Consume Dark Leafy Green Vegetables Every Day

Dark, leafy, and green vegetables can also improve your mood. We’ve been told since we were little how vegetables are good for us. That’s because it has been established scientifically that greens do confer a lot of benefits to the body.

Health education classes at school always reiterate how good fruits and vegetables are good for your physical health. Little did we know that green leafy vegetables can also help with having a good mood and decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli are rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Some of the beneficial contents of vegetables are potassium, magnesium, folate, and certain B vitamins. They also contain prebiotics that feed good bacteria. This results in a healthier gut, which helps improve cognition and mental health. 

3. Eat More Omega-3 Fats

One of the food nutrients that improve a person’s mood and prevent depression is omega-3 fats. Examples of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseed, walnuts, and fish.

Omega-3 travels fast in the cell membrane of the brain and interacts with mood-regulating molecules. This polyunsaturated fat also has anti-inflammatory activities that relieve depression and help you be in a good mood. Eating fish, nuts, and flax meal a few times a week is good for both physical and mental health. 

4. Start the Day with a Balanced Breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Have you experienced going to school or work without having breakfast and feeling grumpy throughout the day? Skipping breakfast can cause digestive problems and can negatively impact your mood. Never start the day without eating a hearty breakfast.

What comprises a balanced breakfast to kickstart your day and improve your mood? These would be foods like:

  • Carbohydrates: Green smoothie, fruits, legumes
  • Whole grains: Brown rice, granola bar, sprouted bread, oatmeal, whole-grain muffins or cereals
  • Protein: Lean meat, eggs, nuts,  high-quality protein powder
  • Low-fat dairy: Yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, or plant-based milk / vegan cheese if sensitive to dairy
  • Lots of fiber from fruits and vegetables

5. Try the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet has grown popular through the years as it has been seen to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The Mediterranean diet is a balanced and healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, cereals, and fish.

The foods included in the Mediterranean diet are:
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Healthy fats from seeds, nuts, and olive oil
  • Moderate amounts of fish, dairy, eggs, and red meat
  • Moderate red wine consumption
When you follow a Mediterranean diet, avoid foods like:
  • Refined grains: White bread, pasta, pizza, or anything that contains white flour
  • Refined oils: Canola, soybean
  • Sugary foods: Desserts, candy, soda
  • Processed meats: Hotdog, ham, salami, sausage, bacon
  • Packaged foods: Microwavable meals, biscuits, canned foods

All the foods in a Mediterranean diet contain plenty of nutrients that are known to help prevent depression. The common denominator in the Mediterranean diet is the nutrient called folate. Studies show that folate deficiency affects mental health and can result in depressive symptoms.

6. Get Enough Vitamin D

Vitamin D is proven to increase serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a happy hormone that promotes positive feelings like happiness, pleasure, and love.

Eat foods rich in Vitamin D, such as:
  • Oily fish like sardines, salmon, mackerel, and herring
  • Moderate amounts of red meat
  • Liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified foods, such as cereals, milk products
  • Mushrooms

Studies show that people suffering from anxiety, depression, or seasonal affective disorder tend to have improved emotional and mental health as vitamin D intake increases. The recommended daily vitamin D intake is at least 600 international units (IU). You can also try vitamin D supplements if you’re watching your cholesterol levels. 

7. Eat More Selenium-Rich Foods

Selenium is a mineral found in water, soil, and foods. It plays a crucial role in boosting the immune system and lowering oxidative stress in the body.

Research also shows that selenium-rich foods help stabilize the mood. In fact, selenium deficiency is linked to depression and anxiety.

Here is a list of selenium-rich foods:
  • Whole foods or grains: Pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, cereals
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Seafood: Clams, oysters, crab, sardines, saltwater fish, and freshwater fish
  • Nuts (especially Brazil nuts), seeds, beans, and legumes
  • Lean meat: Lean beef, lean pork, skinless chicken, skinless turkey

8. Indulge in Dark Chocolate Every Now and Then

The taste, smell, and texture of chocolate alone instantly promote a good mood. But chocolate also happens to contain rich amounts of mood-boosting compounds such as flavonols, anandamide, and phenethylamine, to name a few.

It is better to eat dark chocolate if you’re weight-conscious because it contains less sugar than milk chocolate. Also, dark chocolate lowers the risk of heart disease, reduces inflammation, and helps improve brain function—three health benefits that are not attributed to milk chocolate.

The best type of chocolate to consume would be raw cacao nibs sweetened with low-GI coconut sugar, followed by dark chocolate sweetened with cane sugar, coconut sugar, stevia, or monk fruit. If you have good self-control, you can eat up to a tablespoon of raw cacao nibs (use a measuring spoon instead of a tableware spoon) or one to two small squares of dark chocolate a day.

9. Eat Legumes Regularly

Legumes like black beans, chickpeas, lima beans, soybeans, and lentils are rich sources of magnesium. Research shows that magnesium reduces the mania symptoms in bipolar disorder. In addition, legumes contain high levels of B vitamins, which are mood-boosting nutrients.

10. Snack on Bananas

Bananas are very popular for being a rich source of potassium. Little did we know that bananas can also turn a frown upside down.

Bananas contain natural sugars and prebiotic fiber, which help keep the blood sugar at normal levels and stabilize your mood. The tropical fruit also contains high levels of vitamin B6, which helps your body synthesize feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

The prebiotics found in bananas are also associated with a lower risk of mood disorders. We all know that low blood sugar levels may lead to mood swings and irritability. Bananas are a great source of healthy sugar, which is why they will not cause blood sugar fluctuations if consumed in moderate amounts.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, healthy eating is not just good for physical health but for mental health as well. As they say, healthy foods make a happy person. If you want to boost your happiness and feel good most of the time, follow the recommended diet above.

However, if it’s not just the sad mood you’re concerned about, and you think you’re experiencing a mental health problem, then you may want to try mental health counseling. Reach out to a therapist or counselor at Kentucky Counseling Center.