Good Mood Food: Top 10 Foods for Mental Health

October 10, 2023


Valerie Agyeman, RDN

Did you know that the food you eat can affect your mental health? The food we consume has a significant impact on our overall mood and emotions.( 1 ) Some food contains compounds that can chemically influence our feelings in a positive way. These foods not only contribute to our physical health but also contain nutrients that have been scientifically proven to promote good mental health and reduce the risk of depression. They can even stimulate the production of neurotransmitters, which play a vital role in our brain function and mental health. So, the choices we make about our diet can have a profound effect on both our physical and mental wellness. When we feel good, it motivates us to take care of ourselves, and it all begins with the food that we choose to nourish our bodies.

Good mood food: top 10 foods for mental health

1. Eggs

Eggs are a staple in many fridges, and for good reason. They are affordable, versatile, and packed with nutrients that can positively impact our mood. The egg yolk, in particular, is rich in choline, specific amino acids, and vitamin D, all of which contribute to the production of neurotransmitters that improve mood. Additionally, vitamin D has been shown to help manage anxiety and depression. So, don’t discard the egg yolk – it’s a valuable part of the egg that offers numerous benefits for improved mental health. Although dietary choline has neuroprotective actions, the relationship between dietary choline and depression has been little studied.( 2 )

2. Salmon

Salmon, a popular fatty fish, is packed with beneficial nutrients. It is a rich source of omega 3 fatty acid and vitamin D, both of which have been repeatedly shown to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. A 3.5 oz serving of wild salmon provides an impressive 124% of the daily value for vitamin D. Salmon also contains vitamin B12 and the amino acid tryptophan, which aid in the production of brain chemicals associated with a positive mood. Aim to include salmon in your diet at least twice a week. An affordable and convenient option is canned wild salmon, which is just as good as fresh. You can add it to pasta, salads, or soups to create a flavorful and nutrient-dense meal.

3. Bell peppers

Did you know that a single bell pepper provides approximately 169% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) for vitamin C? This makes it an exceptional source of this essential nutrient. Food abundant in vitamin C can stimulate the production of endorphins, which you may have heard of as the “feel-good” hormones released during intense physical activity or when you eat your favorite comfort food.( 3 ) Moreover, during the peak cold and flu season, consuming vitamin C-rich foods like bell peppers not only enhances mood but also supports the immune system.

4. Dark chocolate

Indulging in chocolate can surely bring pure pleasure and lift your mood, thanks to its delightful rich and sumptuous taste. Dark chocolate and cacao contain amino acid which stimulates the production of endorphins and serotonin, which boost mental health. There’s even some evidence from a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry suggesting that dark chocolate might have prebiotic effects, influencing the gut-brain axis and potentially improving negative emotional states.( 4 ) Serotonin levels rise with higher cacao content, making darker chocolate (70% or higher) or raw cacao especially effective in enhancing mood. Yes, this is your cue to add dark chocolate to your routine.

5. Yogurt

About 90% of the receptors for the “happy hormone” serotonin are found in the gut, making the gut-brain connection a crucial aspect of our emotional well-being. Yogurt, being one of the best sources of probiotics, offers a myriad of benefits by supporting a diverse and thriving microbiome, fostering a healthy environment for abundant serotonin production, and contributing to overall mood regulation. Opting for Greek yogurt with its higher protein content compared to regular yogurt ensures an additional nutritional boost, while sprinkling chia seeds on your yogurt not only increases your intake of omega-3 fatty acids but also provides gut-friendly fiber, both of which play essential roles in promoting digestive health and helping to boost mental health.

6. Dark, leafy greens

Dark, leafy green plant foods like kale, spinach, swiss chard, and broccoli can be considered nature’s multivitamin due to their rich nutrient content. Among their many benefits, these greens contain the essential mineral magnesium, which plays a vital role in influencing serotonin levels in the body. Research has demonstrated that individuals with low serotonin levels are often deficient in magnesium, and they may experience increased anxiety and depression.( 5 ) Considering that almost half of Americans are deficient in magnesium, incorporating an additional handful of these nutrient-packed dark leafy greens into your daily diet can be a great way to boost your magnesium intake and support your overall well-being and mood.

7. Walnuts

Walnuts are a valuable source of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, protein, essential amino acids, magnesium, and fiber, all contributing to improved brain health, neurotransmitter function, and mood regulation. Omega-3s are particularly beneficial for reducing the risk of depression and mood disorders, while antioxidants protect brain cells from stress and inflammation. The protein and amino acids aid in the synthesis of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, and the fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels which keeps your mood in check. Enjoy walnuts in salads or as a topping for fish or chicken to incorporate them into your diet.

8. Avocados

The abundance of monounsaturated fats, such as oleic acid found in avocados may reduce the risk of depression and promote brain health. Additionally, avocados provide essential nutrients like vitamin B6 and folate, both of which play crucial roles in the synthesis of mood-regulating neurotransmitters. Antioxidants, including vitamin E, found in avocados protect brain cells from oxidative stress and inflammation, supporting overall brain health. Beyond their nutritional value, the creamy texture and satisfying taste of avocados may enhance feelings of fullness and enjoyment, positively influencing mood.

9. Chia seeds

Chia seeds are a valuable source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, particularly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which may reduce the risk of mood disorders and fight depression. They also provide protein for neurotransmitter synthesis, antioxidants to protect brain cells, and magnesium for potential mood improvement. The fiber content helps stabilize blood sugar levels, while the presence of tryptophan supports serotonin production. To enjoy their benefits, add chia seeds to your yogurt for a delicious and nutritious snack!

10. Berries

Berries, like blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, contain antioxidants that safeguard brain cells from oxidative stress and inflammation, promoting brain health.( 6 ) They also supply vitamin C, crucial for neurotransmitter synthesis, including serotonin, which impacts mood regulation. The fiber in berries aids in stabilizing blood sugar levels, preventing mood swings and ensuring consistent energy. Enjoy berries as a snack and complement them with a protein source like nuts for a satisfying and mood-boosting combination.

Final thoughts on the top foods for mental health

The food we eat can significantly impact our mental health. Nutrient-rich food including fatty fish, chia seeds, berries, dark leafy greens, yogurt and avocados offer various benefits for brain health, neurotransmitter function, and mood regulation. However, a well-rounded approach that includes a healthy diet, regular physical activity, sufficient sleep, and stress management is key to better mental health. For personalized clinical nutrition guidance on choosing the best good mood food for you, consult with a registered dietitian.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or application is intended for reference and educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately qualified and licensed medical services provider.

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