Eating for a Better Mood

by Shaula Saldaña May 05, 2020

8 Healthy Foods that Can Help you Improve your Mood

mejora tu humor con ciertos alimentos

Did you know there are certain foods that can help us boost our moods? While there are other processed foods that might seem to do the same, they unravel a series of body ailments on the long term due to high sugar and calorie content.

Mental health has been highly linked with nutritional habits lately, although it's important to note that mental health can also be influenced by a series of other factors such as: stress, environment, lack of sleep, genetics, mood disorders and nutritional deficiencies. 

That said, it's hard to determine with precision whether food can improve our moods, but it's also been proven that certain foods can improve general mental health and help aleviate certain types of mood disorders.

You must be planning to steer clear of processed foods by now, but what about those you should start consuming more of? Keep on reading to find out which 8 foods can help you boost your mood, according to science!


#1: Cocoa and Dark Chocolate

Cacao powder

Cocoa and dark chocolate are capable of triggering positive reactions in the body and possess properties that improve mood.

For example, they can release a cascade of compounds that make us feel good, such as caffeine, theobromine, and N-acylethanolamine, a chemically cannabinoid-like substance that has been linked to better mood levels.

They're also rich in flavonoids, which have been proven to increase blood flow to the brain, reduce inflammation, and improve overall brain health, all of which can improve mood regulation.

In addition, chocolate has a high hedonic rating, thanks to its pleasant taste, texture and odor, which are also factors that can promote a good mood state.

But beware, not all chocolate contains these benefits, milk chocolate contains added ingredients such as sugar and fat, so it's always better to opt for dark chocolate, which is higher in flavonoids and low in added sugars or free of them altogether. The best one to get is a 70% dark chocolate or cocoa in its pure state, and it is always more advisable to consume pure cocoa.


#2: Fermented food

alimentos fermentados

Fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut can improve intestinal health and overall mood. The fermentation process allows live bacteria to thrive in foods that can later convert sugars to alcohol and acids.

During this process, probiotics are created. These live microorganisms promote growth of healthy bacteria in the gut and can increase serotonin levels.

It is important to note that not all fermented foods are important sources of probiotics, such as beer, some breads, and wine, due to cooking and filtering.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects many facets of human behavior, such as mood, stress response, appetite, and sexual desire. Up to 90% of your body's serotonin is produced by your gut microbiome, or the collection of healthy bacteria in your gut.

Additionally, the gut microbiome plays an important role in brain health. Research is beginning to show a connection between a healthy gut bacteria and lower rates of depression.


#3: Bananas


Bananas can make you smile. They are rich in vitamin B6, which helps synthesize neurotransmitters that makes us feel good like dopamine and serotonin.

Additionally, an average banana (136 grams) provides 16 grams of sugar and 3.5 grams of fiber. When combined with fiber, sugar is slowly released into the bloodstream, allowing stable blood sugar levels and better mood control. When blood sugar levels are too low, they can cause irritability and mood swings.

This tropical fruit, especially when it is still green in the peel, is an excellent source of prebiotics, a type of fiber that helps feed healthy bacteria in the gut. A large gut microbiome is associated with lower rates of mood disorders.


#4: Oats / Oatmeal


Oatmeal is a whole grain that can keep you in a good mood all morning, literally. You can enjoy it in various ways, such as overnight oats (soaked overnight), toasted, on top of granola, in smoothies, etc.

It's an excellent source of fiber, as it provides 8 grams in a single cup, raw (81 grams). Fiber helps decrease carbohydrate digestion, allowing a gradual release of sugar into the bloodstream to keep your energy levels stable.

In one study, people who ate 1.5–6 grams of fiber for breakfast reported improved mood and energy levels. This was attributed to more stable blood sugar levels, which is important in controlling mood swings and irritability.

Although other sources of whole grains may have this similar effect, oatmeal can be especially advantageous, as it is also a great source of iron, with 1 raw cup (81 grams) providing 19% of the recommended daily rate.

Iron deficiency anemia, one of the most common nutrient deficiencies, is associated with low iron intake. Its symptoms include fatigue, slowness and mood disorders.


#5: Berries

Moras y Frutas del Bosque

Interestingly enough, eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to lower rates of depression. Although the mechanism is unclear, a diet rich in antioxidants can help control inflammation associated with depression and other mood disorders.

Berries contain a wide range of antioxidants and phenolic compounds, which play a key role in fighting oxidative stress, an imbalance of harmful compounds in your body.

The berries are particularly high in anthocyanins, a pigment that gives certain berries their blue-purple color. One study associated a diet high in anthocyanins with a 39% lower risk of symptoms of depression.

If you cannot find them fresh, try to buy frozen berries or blackberries, since that way they also retain a lot of their properties and give smoothies a delicious flavor and color.


#6: Nuts and Seeds

Nueces y Semillas buenas para mejorar el ánimo

Nuts and seeds are rich in plant-based protein, healthy fats, and fiber. They really are an essential food for our diets.

Additionally, they provide tryptophan, an amino acid responsible for producing serotonin that improves our mood. Almonds, pecans, peanuts, and walnuts, as well as pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds, are excellent sources.

Additionally, nuts and seeds are an important component of the Mediterranean diet's MIND diet, which can help promote a healthy brain. Each of these diets promotes fresh, whole foods and limits your intake of processed products.

Additionally, a 10-year study of 15,980 people linked moderate walnut intake with a 23% lower risk of depression.

Finally, certain nuts and seeds, such as Brazil nuts, almonds, and pine nuts, are good sources of zinc and selenium. Deficiency of these minerals, which are important for brain function, is associated with higher rates of depression, although more research is needed.


#7: Coffee


Coffee is the most popular drink in the world and it can also make the world a little bit happier. Caffeine found in coffee prevents a natural compound called adenosine from binding to brain receptors that promote tiredness, thus increasing alertness and attention.

In addition, it increases the release of neurotransmitters that improve mood, such as dopamine and norepinephrine.

A study of 72 people found that both caffeine and decaffeinated coffee significantly improved mood compared to a placebo drink, suggesting that coffee contains other mood-influencing compounds.

The researchers attribute this improved attitude to various phenolic compounds, such as chlorogenic acid. Still, more research is needed.


#8: Beans & Lentils

Frijoles y Lentejas

Although it might sound a bit crazy to you: it's real. Eating beans and lentils can help you have a better mood, since in addition to being rich in fiber and plant-based protein, beans and lentils are full of nutrients that help us feel good.

They are an excellent source of B vitamins, which help improve mood by increasing levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), all of which are important in regulating our mood.

Furthermore, B vitamins play a key role in nerve signaling, allowing proper communication between nerve cells. Low levels of these vitamins, especially B12 and folic acid, have been linked to mood disorders, such as depression.

In short, they are a good source of zinc, magnesium, selenium, and non-heme iron, which can also uplift your spirit.


Wrapping up

When you're feeling down, you can naturally desire high-calorie, high-sugar foods like ice cream or cookies to try to lift your spirits. But beware: this does not help in the long term, and can also have negative consequences.

Instead, you should try to choose healthy foods that improve your mood and also your health in general. Try some of the foods mentioned here in this article to start your routine with a different attitude and a better mood.


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Shaula Saldaña
Shaula Saldaña


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