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Top 10 Mood-Boosting Foods for a Sunny You

You are what you eat, or so the saying goes. But did you know that food doesn’t just contribute to your physical health, but to your mental health as well? Eating the right foods can balance and improve your mood thanks to a combination of healthful vitamins and minerals. Here are the foods that experts say will boost your serotonin and put you in a good mood – naturally!

1. Cacao

Good news, chocolate fans! Cacao is great for mood, and not just because it tastes good.

“Cacao contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which promotes a happy, elated feeling, alleviates stress and depression and gives you the same feeling you get while falling in love,” explains Peggy Kotsopolous, RHN and nutritionist for The Little Potato Company. “Chocolate also contains a neurotransmitter known as anandamide, which can alter dopamine levels in the brain, causing a sense of peace and relaxation.”

Chocolate is also rich in magnesium, which, Kerri Axelrod, Holistic Health Coach at Kerri Axelrod Wellness, explains, may help to make you happier.

“Magnesium plays a critical role in brain function and mood,” she says, “and low levels have been linked to an increased risk of depression.”

2. Anchovies

Fatty fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which Kotsopolous dubs “the most important fat for your brain and for alleviating stress, anxiety, and depression.”

For Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition, some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are the smaller fatty fish, like sardines and anchovies, which have the added benefit of being even more sustainable than bigger fish like salmon.

In addition to omega-3s, Moreno explains, “sardines and anchovies are one of the only dietary sources of Vitamin D we can access.” This vitamin is an important tool to help your body make serotonin.

“While Vitamin D helps you make serotonin, fish oils help your serotonin work better,” explains Mary Shackelton, ND. “More specifically, a key component of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), by reducing brain inflammation, helps the release of serotonin from serotonin neurons.”

These tiny fatty fish pack a massive mood-boosting punch!

3. Pumpkin Seeds

Rich in magnesium and zinc, pumpkin seeds offer “a multi-channel approach to improving mood and brain function,” according to Caleb Backe, a health & wellness expert for Maple Holistics.

“Pumpkin seeds are especially effective at boosting moods due to their rich amino acid profile,” he says, noting that pumpkin seeds are rich in both glutamate, crucial for reducing stress, anxiety, and irritability, and tryptophan, which helps activate serotonin production in the body. One study on subjects with social anxiety disorder found that adding a serving of pumpkin seeds to their daily diet diminished anxiety in just two weeks.

4. Spinach

Spinach is rich in folate, a B vitamin that can help promote improved mood. “Folate helps our brains produce dopamine, the ‘feel good’ chemical known for having calming effects,” explains certified health and wellness coach Noelle Creamer. Spinach is also rich in tryptophan, boosting serotonin as well as dopamine, for a one-two good-mood punch.

5. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a great mood-booster, as they’re rich in vitamin C. According to Lisa Richards, nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet, vitamin C is “essential for making dopamine and serotonin, which enhance mood and prevent depression symptoms.”

And since sweet potatoes also contain vitamin B6, a lack of which has been shown to lead to depression and worsen PMS symptoms, it’s doubly powerful in boosting your mood.

6. Almonds

Alessandro De Carli / EyeEm / Getty Images

Almonds, explains Kotsopolous, are high in magnesium as well as in vitamin B2, which helps produce anti-stress hormones. Almonds are also rich in zinc, which can help support a healthy immune system.

“Zinc doesn’t get as much credit as a nutrient as it should,” says Richards. “This is especially true when it comes to enhancing mood.”

Axelrod agrees.

“Zinc has been found to play a critical role in regulating communication between cells in the brain, and it affects how our bodies respond to stress,” she says. “Zinc deficiencies can put people at greater risk for depression, difficulties with learning and memory, and aggression and violence.”

7. Green Tea

Green tea contains a powerful amino acid, L-theanine, that has been shown to increase the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA. Not only has this neurotransmitter been shown to help manage overeating, but it also has anti-anxiety effects, according to Nichole Dandrea, MS, RDN. “L-theanine also increases dopamine and the production of alpha waves in the brain, which may trigger relaxation, decrease stress, and reduce depression.”

Dr. Christian Gonzalez, Naturopathic Doctor, non-toxic living expert, echoes this.

“L-theanine amino acid has been shown to be a relaxant without the sedative effects,” he says. “When matcha/green tea is utilized with high stress tasks, it can reduce anxiety and increase focus.”

Try This:Super Green Tea Smoothie

8. Sauerkraut

Fermented foods are a great way to boost mood, according to Dr. Julia Skinner, founder and director of Atlanta-based Root, a fermentation and food history company.

“They support our microbiome,” she explains, “which is increasingly shown to be a critical contributor to mood and overall health.”

She cites recent research on the gut/brain connection, which shows the influential, symbiotic links between the functions of the brain and the digestive system.

“The neurotransmitters that support our mood also support our gut health, and other studies have found that our microbiome even plays a role in neurotransmitter production and regulation,” she says. “So while eating probiotic and prebiotic foods is not the only thing we can do to support our moods, it can certainly help, and eating the kinds of foods that are prebiotic and probiotic — for example, sauerkraut or other fermented veggies — also offers us macronutrients and micronutrients that support our health overall.”

9. Rosemary

Rosemary is a delicious herb to flavor a number of dishes, but it is also rich in carnosic acid, which, according to Gonzalez, can have a beneficial effect on your mood and memory.

“Rosemary is shown to help reduce oxidative stress on the brain, thus supporting reduction in inflammatory cytokines,” he says. “These inflammatory cytokines can lead to mood changes and disorders, so by reducing them, you’re doing your brain good.”

10. Blueberries

Antioxidant-rich blueberries are not only rich in folate, like spinach, but may also be a natural mood enhancer. A large body of research suggests this, including one 2017 study that linked eating blueberries to improved mood.

“The boost in mood is likely thanks to anthocyanins, a type of polyphenol compound and the healthful antioxidant that gives blueberries their trademark blue color,” according to Jenn LaVardera RD, nutrition expert at Naturipe.

Polyphenols have been shown to promote brain health, fight mental illness, enhance cognitive function, and ward off oxidative stress,” she says. “These compounds can actually work directly on different signaling pathways in the brain, which is likely why they have a positive effect on mood.”

With a higher anthocyanin content than any other berry, blueberries are the best choice.

“That said,” says LaVardera, “all berries pack anthocyanin power.”

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