Foods for a Positive Mood

Posted 07/10/2019 | By HealthCorps

We’ve all had our fair share of gloomy days. A bad grade, a fight with a friend, a missed flight… life can be a real kicker at times and pulling yourself out of a bad mood can feel like a painstaking uphill battle. Sometimes the best medicine is a warm hug, time to yourself, or a hearty laugh with a friend to get you out of that rut. But what if something as simple as what you put in your body could help keep your spirits high? More and more research has emphasized the link between food and our mental wellbeing. While a bowl of ice cream or a serving of fries may seem oh so right in the moment, those feelings of happiness are short-lived. To maintain a happy, healthy state of mind over an extended time, incorporate these nutritious mood-boosting foods into your regular diet.  


Try swapping your protein choice of chicken or beef once or twice a week for a serving of fish instead. Oily fish like wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies, and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in brain and nervous system functioning. They have also been classified as mood stabilizers and are often linked to combatting depression and improving mental health. Eat more fish and perhaps you’ll have more days that go swimmingly.  

Additional sources of omega-3 fatty acids: walnuts, canola oil, cauliflower, red kidney beans 


Yogurt is a main source of probiotics, which play an essential role in digestive health. Probiotics help regulate the healthy bacteria in our gut. Contrary to common belief, not all strains of bacteria are bad for us! Moreover, research has found positive effects of probiotics on symptoms of depression. Though perhaps unexpected, it turns out the gut and the brain are linked in a crucial way. In fact, approximately 95% of the serotonin neurotransmitter in the brain is produced in the digestive tract. What does this mean? Gut health is linked to mental health!  

Additional sources of probiotics: fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, miso, tempeh, and Korean kimchi 


Oatmeal is a whole grain. Whole grains are also an important source of B vitamins. B vitamins are vital for brain health. Vitamin B1, for example, helps in converting glucose into energy. Vitamin B5 is essential in producing the acetylcholine neurotransmitter, involved in learning and memory. Vitamin B6 is vital to converting tryptophan (an amino acid) into serotonin (a “feel-good” neurotransmitter). Be happy, be positive, be grateful for B vitamins in your diet!  

Additional sources of whole grains: quinoa, brown rice, millet, wild rice 

Leafy Green Vegetables 

Has your mother ever told you to eat your leafy greens? Well…mother knows best! There’s a good reason why we should be eating our greens. Leafy greens contain high levels of folate, which is a form of vitamin B9. Folate helps in DNA formation and the production of new cells. Studies have also found that depression is often linked to low dietary intake of folate and low folate levels in the blood. Folate deficiency may impair the metabolism of mood-boosting neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. Eat more greens so you won’t feel blue.  

Additional sources of folate: spinach, edamame, artichokes, okra, turnips, broccoli, avocado, beans 


Egg yolks contain vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin”. Why? Because when our skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, our bodies are naturally able to produce vitamin D. Since vitamin D helps increase levels of serotonin (a “feel-good” neurotransmitter), deficiencies in vitamin D are often linked to mood disorders such as seasonal affective disorder. The development of this mood disorder tends to be more prevalent for people living in locations that receive less sunlight throughout the year or have longer winters. But, fortifying your diet with foods containing vitamin D, especially when you aren’t being exposed to ample amounts of sunlight, can help you maintain a “sunshine-y” state of mind all year round.  

Additional sources of vitamin D: cheese, milk and orange juice fortified with vitamin D 

Bell Peppers 

Red, orange, yellow, green…a variety of color and a variety of health benefits! What could be better? Bell peppers, sweet and delicious, are rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C is linked to mood because it helps our bodies produce dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin neurotransmitters. Maintaining proper levels of these neurotransmitters are essential for mood stabilization and the prevention of depression. Turn a black and white day into one that’s teeming with color. Chop up a few peppers and toss into a salad, add to an omelet, or (one of my personal favorites) eat with hummus for a healthy snack. 

Additional sources of vitamin C: oranges, lemons, strawberries, broccoli 

Sweet Potatoes 

Sweet potatoes have been super on trend these days. Served cubed, as fries or chips…sweet potatoes are here to stay! And it’s better this way. Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin B6 which is effective in treating premenstrual depression. Our bodies need vitamin B6 to create mood-boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine. So, help yourself to a serving of sweet potato whether it be baked, mashed, boiled or grilled- talk about a truly sweet deal! 

Additional sources of vitamin B6: chickpeas, spinach, carrots, lentils, green peas, bananas  

Seeds and Nuts 

The perfect snacking food. A handful of these on the go helps fill me up and is always guilt free! Seeds and nuts contain zinc. Research has found that people with the worst levels of depression also have the lowest levels of zinc. In addition to depression, deficiencies in zinc in the body may lead to symptoms of ADHD, difficulties with learning and memory, and aggression/violence. Go nuts for nuts!  

Additional sources of zinc: legumes, whole grains 


Although people may tend to shy away from this protein choice due to their unfamiliarity or uncertainty about it, tofu has been used more frequently, especially in vegetarian and vegan diets. Tofu, though seemingly bland, can be cooked in a number of different delicious ways: grilled, fried, scrambled… But one of my favorite ways to eat tofu is mixed in with noodles and veggies in stir-fry with a savory sauce. And just as exciting as the number of ways to incorporate tofu into a meal, is the benefit of magnesium. Tofu contains magnesium, which helps with hormone balance, enzyme activity, and neurotransmitter function. This ultimately helps regulate mood. In fact, magnesium was the first medically acknowledged substance used to treat depression. Add this as a protein substitute to some of your regular meals for a fun way to spice up your diet! Be bold, try something new.   

Additional sources of magnesium: legumes, whole grains, leafy greens 


Lentils, though small little seeds, are mighty! Lentils are a source of selenium, an important mineral for brain functioning. In a 1991 study, participants given 100 mcg of selenium vs a placebo reported elevated mood and decreased anxiety, depression and tiredness. Big things really can come in small packages.  

Additional sources of selenium: Brazil nuts, mushrooms 

Remember that we all have those down in the dump days. But there are many ways to bounce back and feel better than your best– whether it be surrounding yourself with the right people, doing something you love or choosing the right foods to fuel yourself with. When you’re genuinely happy, you become invincible. Although there are still many gaps in this type of research, we can confidently say that dietary changes can bring about changes in your brain structure and chemistry which ultimately leads to changes in mood and behavior. Simply put, the foods you consume can help increase your mental resilience by boosting positive mood. So, give your body the nutrients it needs to sustain a happier, healthier you. You deserve it.  

If you want more information on how foods affect our mood, please see our lesson, My Food Connection

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