Did you know food can improve your mood? Keep reading to learn about what exactly “good mood foods” are and how these foods can improve both your gut and brain health.
Are you having a hard day? A hard week? How about a hard year?! Yep, I’ve been there. In fact, I wrote a book about my experience with stress and burnout, and how what we eat can profoundly affect our mental and emotional well-being.
What I learned is as tempting as it might be to fill the hole of sadness, anger, or anxiety with comforting sugary or salty snacks, those won’t help bring you back to you. The most profound changes happen when we stick with the basics. Eating a variety of whole foods packed with “feel good” nutrients—while still keeping mealtime simple for your sake—is the basis of unlocking the power of foods to shift your mood for the better.
It’s no secret that food can turn a bad day around, but some foods are more powerful than others! Keep on reading to learn about some of the best good mood foods to make you (and your gut) happy and healthy.
What is Good Mood Food?
Food is more than just fuel for our bodies. It’s our whole world! Just like a tree needs good soil to grow, we need good food to be our best selves. While eating high sugar or processed foods might feel good in the short term, the crash that follows can leave you in a worse mood than before.
Instead, consuming good mood foods—those that are nutritious (and delicious), is far more beneficial and won’t leave you feeling sluggish or drained. Look for foods that are nutrient dense, like colorful vegetables or nuts and berries, instead of those that are calorie dense but low in nutrients, like potato chips or candy bars.
The Vagus Nerve Gut-Brain Connection
Did you know that your gut and your brain are linked? There are millions of neurons lining your digestive tract, directly connecting your intestines to your brain and vice versa. That’s why problems with your gut health can directly affect your mood and mental health.
In addition, when you’re stressed or dealing with intense emotions, you might notice a decline in your digestive health. What foods are good for mental health, then? Because of the gut-brain connection, eating foods that are good for your gut will also have a positive effect on your mental health.
Prebiotics, Probiotics, Postbiotics… What’s the Difference?
All of the different words can get confusing, but it’s simpler than you think! These foods are great for your gut and your brain, improving both your mood and your health.
- Prebiotics are high-fiber foods that feed the good bacteria. Prebiotics are found in whole grains, fibrous foods (like artichokes), and many other kinds of fruits and vegetables.
- Probiotics are the live bacteria found in certain foods, such as yogurt, kombucha, and other fermented products. Next time you pick up a carton of yogurt, look for the words “live and active cultures,” which refers to the number of good probiotics!
- Postbiotics are what’s produced after the probiotics eat the prebiotics. These include vitamin K, amino acids, and other nutrients that help keep you and your gut bacteria healthy.
15 Good Mood Foods to Make You Happy
Everyone has different comfort foods, but there are some foods that can help more than others. That being said, not every food is right for every person. Being mindful of your food choices and how they improve your mood can help you thrive in the long run. Keep reading for a list of 15 of the best mood-boosting foods.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” While they aren’t a cure-all, apples are full of fiber that acts as a prebiotic, which is great for our gut-brain connection. Plus, they’re full of the antioxidant known as quercetin, which helps fuel feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain.
Who doesn’t love a good avocado? These delicious fruits are full of heart-healthy fats that improve brain function. They also are a good source of folate, which can help reduce anxiety.
3. Bell peppers
These colorful veggies are a great source of vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant and can also help stabilize your mood.
Baby carrots are one of my favorite mood-boosting foods. They’re high in fiber, vitamin A, and folate, all of which can boost your mood and improve your gut health.
Pair these in the form of hummus with some veggies, and you have a delicious snack that’s full of protein and fiber. Chickpeas also are a source of iron and magnesium.
6. Dark chocolate
A little chocolate now and then can be just the thing your gut needs. Dark chocolate can reduce stress due to the presence of polyphenols, flavonoids, and magnesium.
7. Green tea
I love to drink green tea in the mornings—the antioxidants and low dose of caffeine are great for improving mood and increasing energy and clarity.
As a probiotic—meaning it has live cultures—kimchi is great for improving gut health. Add some kimchi into your diet to benefit both your intestinal bacteria and your mental health via the gut-brain connection.
These little legumes are a superfood. Not only are they high in protein, but they’re also a good source of B vitamins, which can help reduce stress and increase energy. They’re also a complex carb and high in fiber, which are great for your gut!
10. Olives and olive oil
I love to drizzle olive oil over my meals—not only does it taste great, but it’s also a good source of healthy fats for your brain, helping to improve your mental health.
11. Pumpkin seeds
With the fall already upon us, this is a perfect time to start roasting pumpkin seeds for a snack. Not only are they a good source of healthy fats and fiber, but they also have magnesium, which reduces anxiety, and zinc, which improves mood.
Yet another source of healthy fats, salmon also has vitamins D and B12, both of which are great for bringing up your mood.
This leafy green is high in magnesium and folate as well as vitamin C, all of which are great for your gut and mental health.
These berries are a great source of vitamin C and prebiotic fiber. When they’re in-season, freeze extra so you can enjoy them in smoothies all year long.
This tasty veggie is not only a mood-boosting food, but it can also improve your health with its vitamin C, magnesium, and folate.
Though you might not want to turn to a plate of fruits and vegetables when you’re feeling down, adding these good mood foods to your everyday diet will help boost your happiness over time—so you won’t even think about reaching for those sugar-filled snacks.
For more information on good mood food and delicious feel-good recipes, check out my book From Burnout to Balance: 60+ Healing Recipes and Simple Strategies to Boost Mood, Immunity, Focus & Sleep.