There are so many aspects of health that impact the way you feel on a daily basis. How much sleep you log each night and how much stress you experience at work are two major factors. But oftentimes, when it comes to your mood, one of the most important contributors is the food you put on your plate at each meal and the nutrition it provides.
Food & Mood: How it Works
There is a major connection between your brain and your digestive system. Your microbiome is home to a whopping 90% of your body’s serotonin receptors, and serotonin is a natural chemical known for contributing to feelings of wellbeing and happiness.1 So when your gut is functioning optimally, your mood benefits. If your gut is feeling depleted or unbalanced, your serotonin levels will likely be low as well. And the foods you eat directly impact how your microbiome works on a daily basis. But that's not all—certain nutrients within the foods you eat can help lift your mood and keep stress at bay.
Before we dive into the list of foods that make for a happy gut and mood, it’s also important to address the timing of your meals because that factor contributes significantly to your overall mood and demeanor, too. How frequently you eat directly impacts your blood sugar levels, and keeping your blood sugar levels as consistent as possible can contribute to a more positive mood. According to research, eating regular meals and snacks at the same times every day can help keep your blood sugar levels steady as you provide your body with a continuous source of fuel.2 The content and quality of those snacks and meals matter a great deal, though.
Good Mood Food
If you’re looking to stabilize your mood by paying attention to what’s in your kitchen, the following foods can be incredibly helpful.
- Nutrient-rich protein sources like eggs, poultry, seafood and soy can help slow the rate at which your digestive system processes carbohydrates, preventing your blood sugar from spiking dramatically. Your gut also releases more dopamine, another feel-food hormone, as it breaks down protein.3
- Probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut keep the good bacteria in your gut flourishing while minimizing the bacteria that doesn’t serve you.4 The result? A balanced, happy tummy that’s ready to keep those serotonin receptors firing.
- Prebiotic (fiber-rich) options like oats, beans, apples, pears and Brussels sprouts provide the “food” for the good bacteria in your gut to feast on, keeping them alive and well so they can do their job to balance your microbiome.4
- Foods rich in folate and vitamin B-12 can also help to boost your mood. And since B-12 is better absorbed by your body when it’s consumed alongside folate, certain food pairings are more impactful than others.5 Put a folate-rich food like broccoli, lentils, dark leafy greens or oranges on your plate next to a food full of B-12 like cottage cheese, lean beef or salmon, and you’ll be in good shape.
- Foods rich in vitamin D are known to help with your mood as well, especially when you’re not spending a significant amount of time in the sun.5 Low-fat milk, egg yolks and soy milk can be great additions to your diet in the vitamin D department.
- Omega-3 fatty acid sources like salmon, tuna, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts can help you fight back against many of the health concerns stress can provoke. Omega-3 fatty acids may help boost your mood, reduce anxiousness and increase your ability to handle stress.6
- Foods full of magnesium like dark chocolate, avocado, nuts, legumes and tofu can help you manage anxiety. When you become stressed, your body actually uses more magnesium than when you aren’t stressed, so then you need even more.7
Foods That May Impact Mood
On the flip side, if you’re looking to avoid mood swings and drops in energy throughout the day, try to avoid the following foods when possible.
- Refined white starches like white rice, white bread and crackers can lead to major spikes in blood sugar followed by big crashes, which zap your good mood.8 If you’re going to eat white rice, pair it with a lean protein source and healthy fat to prevent the pitfall, and opt for more complex, whole grain and multigrain breads instead of white varieties to help balance your blood sugar.
- Simple sugars can also create dramatic ebbs and flows in your blood sugar levels.6 While they are present in junk foods like candy and soda, they also exist in everyday foods like fruit juice and jams, so be mindful to pair these options with a healthy fat or protein to balance how quickly your body digests the meal. Look for healthier sugar alternatives instead.
- Alcohol is a depressant, so if you’re trying to eat and drink for a better mood, keep your cocktail consumption low.9 Alcohol is also a major sleep disruptor, which will further impact your mood—and not in a good way—if you overdo it and consume it close to bedtime.
- Ultra-processed foods that contain chemical additives can destroy the good bacteria in your gut, creating an imbalance that ultimately impacts your mood in a negative way.10 So steer clear of these options and swap in whole foods instead.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like The Best Nutrients to Knock Out Stress and 12 Best Herbal Teas for Wellness, Energy, Sleep, Calm and Digestion. Also, be sure to sign up for Swanson Health Emails to get expert advice and our best promotions delivered straight to your inbox.
1 Gut feelings: How food affects your mood. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/gut-feelings-how-food-affects-your-mood-2018120715548
2 Mood Food: Can What You Eat Affect Your Happiness? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mood-food-can-what-you-eat-affect-your-happiness#strategies
3 Eat This for Breakfast to Improve Your Mood All Day. U.S. News & World Report. https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2017-04-12/eat-this-for-breakfast-to-improve-your-mood-all-day
4 The Microbiome Diet: Can It Restore Your Gut Health? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/microbiome-diet
5 Foods to Help You Feel Better. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/foods-feel-better
6 Anxiety and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-the-zone/201201/anxiety-and-omega-3-fatty-acids
7 Magnesium and the Brain: The Original Chill Pill. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201106/magnesium-and-the-brain-the-original-chill-pill
8 Stabilize Your Mood with Food. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/diagnosis-diet/201706/stabilize-your-mood-food
9 Alcohol and mental health. Mental Health Foundation. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/a/alcohol-and-mental-health
10 Complex, Simple, and Refined Carbohydrates. Verywell. https://www.verywellhealth.com/complex-simple-refined-carbohydrates-1087502
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.