Boosting your mood through food

Your body’s health and your mind’s happiness are inextricably linked. Feeding your body healthy, nutritious, whole foods will boost your mood, increase your energy and raise your happiness. Don’t forget that the human body has evolved over millions of years and is designed to digest whole and minimally processed fruits, vegetables, and meat. You’ll feel your best if you eat what your body has been designed to use as fuel.

Certain nutrients are essential to promote brain health, and foods high in fiber or probiotics will keep your digestive system running perfectly. This is a list of my favorite feel-good foods and a few of the reasons they are so good at boosting your mood.

1 | Brown Rice

This one is at the top of my list, and I haven’t seen it on any other mood-boosting food lists. Why have I placed it at the top? It is my #1 go-to fiber-rich food to keep things moving smoothly in the digestive department. And who doesn’t feel light, free, and happy when things are going well there?

In addition, brown rice is high in magnesium, which is essential in the body’s production of serotonin, a compound that is believed to help regulate mood, sleep, and memory.

Brown rice is easy to add to your diet. In our household, we always have some cooked up. It’s an easy, neutral starch that can be paired with any meat or fish, beans, lentils, stir fried vegetables, and even pasta sauce. Our favorite is sweet brown rice, which is short-grained and sticks together (vs. fluffier, long grain rice.)

2 | Beets

Beets are another way to keep things moving smoothly from a digestive standpoint. In addition to being high in fiber, beets actually contain an enzyme that help speed digestive function.

Beets also contain a nutrient called uridine that not only helps maintain dopamine levels (the compound in your brain that keeps you feeling good), but is also associated with an increased number of brain synapses.

Beets are another easy food to incorporate into your diet. Roasting them is incredibly simple, and they can then be cubed and used as a side dish to any meal. Our family loves both red and yellow beets equally. They’re both delicious!

3 | Water

Maybe water isn’t technically a food, but it serves multiple functions to keep your mood happy:

First, it keeps you from being dehydrated. Dehydration often results in irritability and headaches. A great practice is to drink a full glass of water as soon as you wake up in the morning.

Second, in keeping with the digestive theme, it keeps everything pleasant and moving right along, to enable you to feel light and free.

Third, it counter-intuitively reduces bloating. I know I never feel great if I’m bloated, so this reason alone is enough to motivate me to drink enough water.

4 | Salmon

Actually, there are quite a few types of fish that could go on this list, but salmon is my favorite, so that’s what makes it onto my top 10. Because of its fat content, salmon is highly satisfying to eat. And it’s healthy fat, so no need to feel guilty!

Salmon and other fatty fish contains omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients play an essential role in brain health and have been shown to reduce the incidence of fatigue, depression, mood swings and memory loss.

Our favorite way to prepare salmon is to marinade it in a mix of soy sauce, rice wine, and brown sugar and then broil it for 14-15 minutes. It is delicious!

5 | Nuts

Nuts are the perfect snack food. While they are nutritionally dense (i.e., relatively high in calories), they are also high in fat and fiber, which makes you feel full, reducing the likelihood of overeating them.

Not only do nuts have plenty of health benefits (like reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease), nuts also boost serotonin levels.

I always keep a tin of nuts in my desk at work, and also take baggies of them with me when I know I’ll be in a situation where I might have to wait longer than I’d like to have a meal. They’re super portable and their satisfying nature keeps me from getting hangry (a mood booster right there!) My favorite nuts are roasted and unsalted. Costco carries a huge jar of mixed cashews, pecans, pistachios and almonds. We always have one in the house.

6 | Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt is the perfect healthy dessert. You get the smooth, cool feeling of ice cream, but the health benefits of probiotics, with lower fat and calories. The probiotics will keep the bacteria in your gut balanced, promoting happy digestion.

In addition, the calcium in yogurt can play a role in reducing depression from PMS. Not a bad side benefit!

One of our favorite Greek yogurt flavors is Greek Gods honey-flavored yogurt. My daughter discovered it at summer camp one year, and now it’s one of her favorite sweets.

7 | Bananas

Bananas are another mood boosting food that can also satisfy your sweet tooth. They are satisfyingly filling, portable, and easy to eat. They’re basically nature’s answer to the breakfast bar 🙂

Bananas also contain tryptophan, which can help you sleep better. And as discussed here, sleep is one of the most important things you can do to keep yourself in a great mood!

One of my favorite easy breakfasts is bananas and peanut butter. It’s quick and easy, and easily keeps me going until lunch.

8 | Berries

Berries are a wonderfully colorful addition to your diet. They may make you happier just by looking at them! The best part is, there are so many kinds, there’s something for everyone, and the darker colored ones contain anthocyanidins, which support brain health and are associated with lower rates of cognitive function disorders.

In addition, berries contain numerous antioxidants, fiber, and nutrients which will keep your body healthy and feeling at its best. This in turn will keep you feeling happy and ready for anything.

I like to add berries to my granola and kefir in the morning. We’e found it easiest to keep frozen berries around as there’s less chance of them going bad before we eat them. I make my breakfast the night before, giving the berries a chance to defrost without having to microwave them.

9 | Leafy greens

Leafy greens, especially spinach, are a critical mood boosting food. They contain folate, which supports the production of serotonin. And lowered folate levels have been linked with fatigue and even depression.

Leafy greens also contain fiber, to support your digestive wellness, and antioxidants and many other nutrients to support your overall health. What’s not to love?

I like to have a serving of greens every day. Sometimes we have some cooked up from batch cooking earlier in the week. But if not, they are easy to add to any leftover meal: simply throw a handful of raw spinach or baby kale on top of your food before covering and putting in the microwave. By the time your food is heated, the greens will be wilted and delicious.

10 | Dark chocolate

I saved the best for last! As much as it feels like an indulgence, dark chocolate contains quite a bit of fiber as well as powerful antioxidants and minerals like selenium, magnesium, and zinc.

In addition, the way good chocolate snaps when you bite it, then melts at your body temperature, can give you a psychological boost simply from the enjoyment of eating it!

I keep a bar of dark chocolate at my desk at work and have one square after lunch every day. It’s the perfect dessert. You’ll be amazed how much enjoyment you can get out of a single square of chocolate. And you won’t feel an ounce of guilt because it’s a reasonable amount, and you’ll know you’re supporting your health and your mood!

A note about junk-food mood boosters

There’s a whole set of foods that we usually associate with boosting our moods: cookies, cakes, and chips. The reason these foods can temporarily make you feel good is that they’ve been engineered to do just that. They are taking advantage of your evolutionary preference for high fat, high sugar calories.

That’s because, for a forager in nature, high fat and high sugar foods are a rare boon. We’re wired to eat as much as possible of these rare foods since they won’t be available for very long, and they’re such a good source of calories.

However, in our current society, these foods aren’t rare at all. In fact, they’re common and often cheaper than less nutritionally dense foods. Our bodies are telling us to eat as much of them as possible, while they last.

But these foods, while high in calories, are deficient in nutrients. They won’t make your body feel good in the long-term. In fact, they’ll make your body sick.

So my advice is, avoid or at least minimize these foods. They trick you by lighting your brain up with short-term enjoyment, but are ultimately the opposite of mood-boosting foods.

My one last piece of advice here is — you get the maximum enjoyment from the first bite of an indulgent food. Every bite after that gives you much less pleasure. So just have that first bite, enjoy the lift, and then stop 🙂

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