Tips For Filling Your Days With Tasty Mood Boosting Food

by Gennefer Gross


Food is meant to be a shared experience. Breaking bread with family and friends is at the heart of dining, and nourishes the body and the soul. But if you suffer from anxiety – especially in social situations – or depression, enjoying a meal can be a daunting prospect. A text from a friend to meet up for brunch, an email from a co-worker about an office gathering, or even a wedding invitation can be crippling. But rather than depriving yourself of those vital human connections and the joy of eating something life-changingly delicious together, you can eat certain foods to help combat those emotional shifts in your brain. 

The key to feeling better could be as close as your kitchen. And the solution is easier to incorporate into your lifestyle than you might think – even if your best friend wants to try that trendy new restaurant “everyone’s raving about.”

“Diet plays a huge role in depression,” says Shawn Talbott, PhD, a nutritional biochemist and author of Vigor: 7 Days to Unlimited Energy, Focus, and Well-Being. “If we eat better foods like lean proteins, whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables and fish, we have higher energy levels, enhanced moods, and sharper mental focus.”  

So, don’t RSVP ‘No’ just yet. These foods could mean the difference between jumping up to catch the bouquet or sinking deeper into the cushions of your couch.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

What They Are: Nutrients found in fatty fish like wild salmon, Atlantic mackerel, oysters and herring, as well as nuts like flaxseed, walnuts and chia seeds.

Why They Work: According to a study from Ohio University, omega-3 fatty acids are particularly effective when it comes to alleviating anxiety. Because our brain is 60% fat, it needs these types of fatty acids for proper growth, development and functioning. It is believed that those who experience depression may not have enough EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DPA (docosahexaenoic acid). These nutrient-rich foods supplement those vital fatty acids with brain-boosting properties to promote a healthy mood.

How To Incorporate Them: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that you eat 2-3 servings of fish each week. So consider replacing carbs like pizza or pasta that turn to sugar, and cause moods to spike then plummet with a salmon dish like this one. You can prepare this meal easily at home. You can also add smoked salmon to your morning avocado toast for an extra boost. Most restaurants have these types of fish available if you’re out with friends. Consider bringing a handful of walnuts with you to a party or event, where you may not know the menu in advance for an easy mood-enhancing snack.


What They Are: The foods that contain antioxidants are ones rich in (1) beta-carotene like carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, spinach and kale; (2) vitamin C such as citrus fruits, red peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and strawberries; and (3) vitamin E like almonds, avocados and sunflower seeds. Selenium and zinc also have beneficial antioxidant properties found in Brazil nuts, halibut, grass-fed beef, turkey, chicken, eggs and cashews.

Why They Work: In addition to being superfoods, diets rich in antioxidants are essential for supporting optimal brain function to keep your moods level. They can also decrease anxiousness by protecting the brain against oxidative stress (aka free radicals) that leads to inflammation, which can impair neurotransmitter function production that affects the mood.

A study conducted by the State University of New York (SUNY) found that symptoms of anxiety are linked to a lower antioxidant state. So bolstering your antioxidant intake will positively enhance your mood. Similar studies have shown that upping your zinc leads to a notable drop in anxious feelings.

How To Incorporate Them: Fortunately, there’s a wide variety of foods loaded with mood-elevating antioxidants. You could plan virtually all of your weekly meals incorporating one or more of them, either at home or dining out. You could start with a breakfast of baked spinach and eggs like this antioxidant-abundant recipe. For lunch, try this lemon chicken with a side of carrot and Brussels sprouts risotto. And if you’re looking for a healthy snack, this roasted red peppers and cashew dip will keep a spring in your step. And there’s no shortage of spots serving up turkey, halibut and grass-fed beef, so be sure to order one of those to maximize the merriment. For cases where you don’t know what foods will be available, bring along a pack of sunflower seeds, or pre-game with a citrus snack like an orange or fresh strawberry smoothie.



What They Are: Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts found in fermented dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, and raw cheese (e.g. goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, and cow’s milk soft cheeses); cultured vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi; fermented soybeans such as tempeh and natto; and even household pickles!

Why They Work: Gut bacteria is critical for the production of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which all play a role in the state of your mood. Restoring balance in the gut with probiotics benefits the brain. Probiotics studies have also shown a direct correlation between gut microbes and the central nervous system. Recent research has demonstrated that ingesting live bacteria foods work to treat—or even prevent—anxious feelings. In addition, fermented products have been proven to calm anxiety by encouraging good bacteria to grow, which sends signals to the brain to keep mood levels balanced.

How To Incorporate Them: If you’re vegan, you can always get your hands on tempeh, which has become even more popular than tofu in recent years in a variety of forms, most popularly as a bacon alternative. For the vegetarian and carnivore set, you can replace at least one or two meals with probiotic-rich ingredients like this purple power smoothie, loaded with kefir for breakfast (and bonus: blueberries, bursting with antioxidants), a beet salad with blood oranges and goat cheese for lunch, or camembert-stuffed chicken for dinner, a luxurious soft French cheese, a decadent option for belly and brain bliss. It may be more difficult to find eateries offering probiotic-laden dishes, so be sure to grab a yogurt or fiber-rich nutrition bar before you leave the house to keep things running smoothly, inside and out.

B Vitamins

What They Are: Foods rich in B vitamins like beef, pork, avocado, whole grain cereals (oatmeal), brown rice, milk, almonds and potatoes.

Why They Work: Deficiencies in B vitamins have been linked to certain mood disorders and anxiety. So Harvard Medical School advises eating foods rich in B vitamins to ward off anxious feelings. According to a study conducted by the University of Maryland Medical Center, vitamin B6 in particular helps the body produce neurotransmitters like serotonin that influence mood. Research from Australia found that stressed-out workers who were given high doses of B vitamins felt less anxious and were in consistently better moods within 12 weeks.

How To Incorporate Them: This is another category with an expansive list of food items. You can create a quick oatmeal breakfast like this one, and top it with any number of mood-elevating fruits like blueberries or strawberries. And pretty much any pork or beef dish will pack in the B6 buzz you need, like this stuffed beef tenderloin recipe or a succulent pulled pork. When dining out, go ahead and treat yourself to that burger bursting with vitamin B, and a side of fries, both of which will lift your spirits (because who isn’t happy with a plate of fries?). And if you’re not sure what’s going to be served at an event, bring along some almonds, or reach for a tall glass of milk before you go.

When you keep a close eye on the foods you consume, you can get those neurotransmitters continuously firing positive feelings that will help renew your spirit and your appetite for going out. But while these are beneficial lifestyle changes for overall mood enhancement, you should always consult your doctor before making any radical changes to your diet. If if you’re feeling depressed or anxious, be sure to seek out the medical attention you need, too. There’s not one magic secret ingredient that can transform your life, but if you take these steps toward feeling better, you’ll find fulfillment beyond just a full belly.

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