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Happy Foods: A Complete Guide To Foods That Can Boost Your Mood

For most of us, the word 'food' alone is a mood booster by default, especially when you are feeling low. You don't have to lift your mood by binging on chips and sugary doughnuts because why do that when you can actually choose healthy foods that can improve your mood.

We are all aware that food and your mood are interlinked with each other. Human bodies actually respond to different types of foods differently; that is, there is a direct link between what you eat and how you feel.

For example, if your diet is poor, it could damage your mood. And a bad mood can actually damage your immune system, slow down your weight loss efforts and lead to tension headaches.

This article contains the following:

  • How Can Food Boost Your Mood?
  • What Hormones Can Boost Your Mood?
  • Foods That Can Boost Your Mood
  • Foods For Different Moods
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The Foods You Eat And Your Moods: How Can Food Boost Your Mood?

Being in a good mood has a positive effect on you, as well as the people around you! If you are in a bad mood, upset or cranky, it can spoil your entire day and come in the way of your work, social activities, etc. The lack of dopamine or serotonin can make a person feel agitated, irritated, etc. It is important to nourish your brain with certain foods that can help boost the production of these hormones to improve your mood [1].

Well, most of us equate happiness with a 'sugar high' or 'caffeine high'. In fact, relying on caffeine or sugar for an instant 'high' isn't a wise idea and unhealthy. The high that they give is temporary, making you go for another dose of happiness [2]. On the other hand, if you consume certain foods that boost mood and energy, you don't need to worry about 'sugar crash' or 'addiction.'

The cause for feeling low is usually the depletion of dopamine and serotonin, two hormones produced in your brain that are responsible for being positive and having happy thoughts. There are foods to improve your memory, foods to reduce pain. Similarly, there are a variety of common foods that can boost your mood by releasing certain feel-good hormones in your brain [3][4].

Research suggests that the phytonutrients that are present in plants play a role in regulating good moods. Maybe that is why you tend to feel good when you eat natural foods [5]. Studies also say that the acids, taste and ingredients in the foods listed below will increase your energy. It also plays an important part in your mental health.

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What Hormones Can Boost Your Mood?

Before we get into the list of foods, here is a small brief on the hormones responsible for the four primary chemicals in the brain that are responsible for keeping you happy are dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin [6].

1. Serotonin:A neurotransmitter that is best known for controlling and managing depression symptoms.

2. Dopamine: Another neurotransmitter that is often referred to as the 'chemical of reward'. For example, when you achieve a target or accomplish a task or show kindness towards others, this hormone is secreted.

3. Endorphins:They are opioid neuropeptides, and they are produced by the central nervous system to help you combat physical pain.

4. Oxytocin:This hormone stimulates dopamine and serotonin while reducing anxiety.

So, a healthy diet can help boost your mood in general, but these specific foods aim at improving your mood naturally; have a look.

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Foods That Can Boost Your Mood

1. Banana

Banana is rich in potassium and magnesium, both of which act as natural mood boosters, as they improve the serotonin levels in the brain. In addition to these, bananas are a rich source of vitamin A, B6 and C, and the mood-boosting amino acid tryptophan [7]. Green bananas are good for your gut health as it helps feed the healthy gut bacteria, which helps prevent any mood disorders.

2. Oats

An excellent source of fibre, oats is a great mood booster [8]. This whole breakfast grain can provide fibre, potassium, magnesium, protein and vitamins. The fibre in oats help stabilise your blood sugar levels and boost your mood, and in addition to that, they are also high in iron, which may improve mood symptoms in those with iron deficiency anaemia.

3. Dark Chocolate

Chocolate is one of the foods that can cure a grumpy mood or a stressed-out mood. Dark chocolate has the property to increase the "good mood" hormones in the body by reducing stress-inducing hormones. Studies have found that just eating 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate has the powerful ability to lower the stress hormones cortisol and catecholamines in the body, thus reducing your anxiety [9].

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4. Berries

Eating fruits and vegetables naturally has a positive impact on your overall wellbeing, and a diet rich in antioxidants may help manage inflammation associated with depression and other mood disorders [10]. Berries, irrespective of their kinds, are all packed with a wide range of antioxidants and phenolic compounds, which play a key role in combatting oxidative stress. Here are types of berries that can help boost your mood:

  • Strawberry: Strawberries are one of the most beloved mood-boosting foods because they are rich in vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, vitamin C and manganese. These essential nutrients help in boosting the happy chemicals in your brain.
  • Goji berry: Goji berries increase the body's ability to handle stress and support a healthy mood, mind and memory. The berries are a complete source of protein and amino acids and are extremely rich in antioxidants too.
  • Gooseberry: The Indian Gooseberry or Amla is easily available and helps change your mood because Amla is a great mood booster due to the abundance of vitamin C.
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5. Nuts

Nuts are loaded with healthy fats that will keep you smiling. They are packed with serotonin, a feel-good chemical that's in short supply when you're depressed. Nuts are high in plant proteins and healthy fats and provide tryptophan, an amino acid responsible for producing mood-boosting serotonin [11]. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium. Magnesium is crucial in promoting overall brain health and is an essential element that prevents depression. Here are types of nuts that can help boost your mood:

  • Cashew: They contain vitamin B, protein and iron. Keep a few nuts handy to munch when you feel a bit low and instantly energise you.
  • Almond: Almonds are rich in vitamins which will increase your energy. It is healthy brain food as well. A handful of almonds will help to a great extent in boosting your mood.
  • Walnut: A handful of walnuts every day can help improve both your physical and mental health.
  • Brazil nut: Brazil nuts contain selenium, which may help to improve mood by reducing inflammation.
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6. Seeds

Like nuts, a variety of seeds are also beneficial in improving your mood by boosting serotonin production [12]. Studies have found that people who regularly consumed healthy seeds have a reduced risk of developing depression and mood disorders. Here are some healthy seeds that can help boost your mood:

  • Sesame seeds: Sesame seeds help boost up your mood instantly. The amino acid present in sesame seeds boosts the brain's dopamine levels, charging you up in full gear. You can sprinkle some sesame seeds in your salad and smoothies.
  • Flaxseed: Flaxseed is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can boost the production of serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain to improve your mood.
  • Pumpkin seeds: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, pumpkin seeds help stimulate the production of endorphins which are later released into the bloodstream to help improve your mood, provide stress relief and enhance pleasure.
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7. Beans

Beans are rich sources of fibre and plant-based protein, and feel-good nutrients such as B vitamins. Consuming beans in a controlled manner can help improve mood by increasing neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), essential in boosting your mood [13]. Chickpeas, split peas, black beans, kidney beans, borlotti beans, cannellini beans, etc., are packed with nutrients that improve mood (folate, calcium, copper, magnesium, iron, and zinc).

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Like beans, lentils can also help improve your mood as they are also rich sources of mood-boosting nutrients, particularly B vitamins [14].

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8. Fermented Foods

Fermented foods may help improve your gut health. The fermentation process allows live bacteria to create probiotics in your gut, which supports the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut and may increase serotonin levels. Serotonin is directly linked to different human behaviours such as mood, stress response, appetite, and sexual drive. Studies have also pointed out that healthy gut bacteria and lower rates of depression are interlinked [15]. Below mentioned are some healthy fermented foods that can help boost your mood:

  • Yoghurt: The calcium present in yoghurt may help reduce the level of stress and anxiety. It releases feel-good neurotransmitters that make you happy and lifts your mood.
  • Kimchi: Some studies suggest that eating foods such as kimchi could decrease levels of social anxiety or social phobia.
  • Kefir: Kefir is classified as psychobiotics, that is, microbes that influence mental health and mood. You can drink kefir at any time of the day, as you prefer. Although, the best time to drink is considered to be 1-2 hours before your bedtime as it can enhance your sleep
  • Kombucha: Kombucha contains vitamins B1 (thiamine), B6, and B12, all of which are known to help the body fight depression and stabilise mood.
  • Sauerkraut: This fermented food provides probiotics and vitamin K2 and promotes healthy gut flora, and may increase the absorption of mood-regulating minerals from your diet.
  • Note: Not all fermented foods are significant sources of probiotics, such as in the case of beer, some bread, and wine.

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9. Fatty Fish

Consuming fish regularly can help improve the serotonin hormone levels in the brain, treating and reducing the symptoms pertaining to depression. Likewise, the presence of omega-3 fatty acids also accords to this benefit. Although more study is required, one review of clinical trials showed that in some studies, consuming omega-3's in the form of fish oil can help lower depression. Healthy fatty fish that can help improve your mood is as follows [16]:

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  • Salmon: Salmon is a great mood-boosting food that is loaded with essential omega-3 fatty acids. This important nutrient is required for energy production, brain activity and circulation. Another type of fish that can help boost your mood is tuna.
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10. Coffee

Yes, yes, we know that coffee is not the most popular drink out there, but it may help boost your mood. The caffeine in coffee prevents a naturally occurring compound called adenosine from attaching to brain receptors that promote tiredness and increases the release of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine [17]. Studies attribute the feel-good effect of coffee to various phenolic compounds, such as chlorogenic acid. You can make your coffee a bit healthier by choosing organic brands, avoiding artificial sweeteners, making it black coffee (and not adding milk) etc.

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11. Water

Dehydration, even mild levels, is known to negatively influence mood because it can throw off the delicate dopamine and serotonin balances in the brain. These natural chemicals can increase/affect depression and anxiety. Drinking a glass (or two) of water can help improve your mood [18].

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Here are some more foods that have shown mood-boosting properties; however, more studies are required:

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12. Broccoli

Known to be one of the healthiest foods in the world, Broccoli is rich in folic acid and chromium. Both are known to boost mood and make you feel awesome. Broccoli has amazing other health benefits as well, including preventing the onset of several forms of cancer [19].

13. Spinach

Green leafy vegetables are rich in magnesium and iron, both of which contribute to sublime mental health. Magnesium is known to benefit the body in over 300 ways; medical research has proven. Spinach also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are again linked with optimum brain functioning.

14. Asparagus

Asparagus is high in folic acid and tryptophan, which works a great deal in keeping you healthy and happy. These are essential for your body to produce the neurotransmitters that control your moods and behaviour [20].

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15. Coconut

Do you know why coconut is called a mood-boosting food? The water found inside the coconut is full of electrolytes that will boost your mood instantly. It doesn't mean that the water is only enough to boost your mood. The flesh of the coconut itself is a very good mood booster [21].

16. Quinoa

Quinoa is so rich in amino acids that it is considered a complete source of protein, folate, magnesium, phosphorous and manganese. These minerals are known to boost your mood naturally [22].

17. Healthy Oils

Including healthy oils in your diet aid the adrenal glands. Oils with a fat content like coconut oil, olive oil, oil from seeds, nuts like groundnut, almond, and cashew nuts are certain examples. These oils make one feel full and satisfied. Rational thinking is optimum when there is contentment - even in small measures [23].

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18. Ashwagandha

When consumed in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, ashwagandha can begin to impact your mental health as well as your physical wellbeing. This natural herb is essential for a strong nervous system. It enables the body to build a strong nervous system while supporting the adrenal glands and their function. This herb is mainly consumed in the form of tablets [24].

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19. Chyavanprash

This is a treat that tops all good health prescriptions. Made up of essentials like cow ghee, Indian gooseberry, and jaggery, this ayurvedic magic has been India's heritage medicinal treat since ancient times. If you are troubled by restlessness, regular consumption of Chyavanprash can help improve your mood.

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20. Tomato

Tomatoes are high in lycopene which may help elevate your mood. Tomatoes contain mood enhancers like folate, magnesium and iron, which produces mood-regulating transmitters serotonin and dopamine. Researchers have found that one of the biggest benefits of lycopene in the prevention of the build-up of pro-inflammatory compounds that have been linked to depression [25].

21. Avocado

Avocados contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to brain health and regulating mood. This fruit also packs a punch of serotonin-boosting vitamin B3 and are natural hormone balancers, ensuring your brain release the right chemicals to make you feel great.

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22. Apple

Apples contain pectin, which stabilises your moods. The antioxidants that are present in apples play an important role in fuelling the neurotransmitters present in your brain. Also, they can minimise inflammation. Overall, apples can be a stress-busting food [26].

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23. Milk

While this may not apply to everyone (not sure why), milk may improve your mood. Milk is known to boost your mood because it contains a compound called tryptophan, which gets converted to serotonin, which is the happy hormone that regulates your mood. A protein found in milk known as lactium has a calming effect on the body [27].

24. Saffron

Saffron, or kesari, is another natural ingredient for boosting your mood, as it comes with anti-depressant properties. It can also help reduce mood swings during PMS to a great extent [28].

25. Beetroot

Raw beetroot will not only be helpful for those who are anaemic but for those who are in a bad mood too. Raw beetroots with a dash of salt and pepper are a healthy food to boost your mood.

26. Lemon Juice

A fresh cup of lemon juice will help to do wonders for your bad mood swings. Studies have shown lemon may enhance the mood with aromatherapy.

27. Mushroom

Mushrooms contain essential vitamins like vitamin B6 that impacts the production of serotonin and neurotransmitters. This healthy vitamin is associated with providing a positive mood, and it may help reduce stress naturally [29].

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28. Grapes

Grapes are packed with antioxidants and are also a great food to make you feel better. Grapes contain flavonoids, which have been found to affect your mood and lower depression. So, pack these juicy grapes as a take-along snack to boost up your mood [30].

Now that we've covered the large list of foods that can boost your overall mood, here are some foods that you can consume for specific reasons. Take a look.

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Foods For Different Moods

1. Chocolate for stress: Chocolate is one of the foods that can cure a grumpy mood or a stressed-out mood. Experts say that dark chocolate helps in reducing the stress hormones that are swarming in your body. Researchers have found that just eating 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate has the powerful ability to lower the stress hormones cortisol and catecholamines in the body, thus reducing your anxiety.

2. Spinach salad for a sluggish mood: If you are unable to concentrate and cannot keep your eyes open, skip the coffee and have a bowl of spinach salad instead. The folic acid or folate present in spinach helps your body process and lower homocysteine levels, which interferes with the flow of blood and nutrients to the brain. This impaired blood flow can make you feel sluggish and sleepy.

3. Green tea for an angry mood: How does green tea lower anger issues? Green tea consists of theanine, which calms your mind and enhances your focus and helps you maintain clear concentration. Apart from green tea, foods like asparagus, vitamin C-rich fruits and zinc-rich foods can be eaten as these have calming effects on the mind and body.

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(4) Apple + peanut butter for a cranky mood: Crankiness can be a sign that your body requires fuel. Crankiness can give you an irritable mood, and to stop your cranky mood, having a combination of foods at each meal and snack will do the trick. Combination foods contain carbohydrate in combination with either some fat or protein foods, and carbs are a quick source of energy that burns out. Incorporating fats and protein into your diet will slow down the digestion process, which in turn helps keep your sugar and energy levels stable.

(5) Fish for an anxious mood: Fishes like salmon, mackerel, and tuna contain omega-three fatty acids that will help tame your anxiety. Research has also found that omega-three fatty acids help reduce anger and irritability. Omega 3 fatty acids also help in dealing with other health issues as well, like depression to asthma, everything.

(6) Egg sandwich for PMS mood swings: It is normal for every woman to start craving carbohydrates before her periods. As carbohydrates help the body boost its serotonin levels, it helps improve and enhance your mood. However, avoid high-fat and high-sugar carbohydrates like cakes, chips, and doughnuts, which can leave your mood feeling grumpy. Have whole-grain bread, eggs, and bananas which will enhance the release of tryptophan. Instead of mayonnaise, have low-fat, plain Greek yoghurt.

(7) Whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk for a sad mood: Feeling sad all the time can be due to a vitamin D deficiency in your diet. Vitamin D has many roles to play in the body, out of which is to help the production of serotonin. Serotonin is known as the feel-good hormone that stabilises your mood and reduces the feelings/symptoms of depression.

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On A Final Note…

The foods you eat can actually boost your mood, no matter where you are and at any given moment. Dietary changes bring about changes in the brain structure, which can lead to altered behaviour.

It is natural for us to gorge on calorie-rich, high-sugar foods like ice cream or cookies to lift our spirits. While you can mistake the sugar rush for ‘real happiness,' all it does is negatively affect your overall health. Next time you are feeling down, pick some healthy mood boosters.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the ways to increase happy hormones?

Ans: Laughing is one way to release happy hormones. It releases feel-good brain chemicals that reduce physical pain. Even for 20 minutes, exercising daily releases the happy hormones dopamine, serotonin, to name a few. Getting a massage reduces cortisol levels by 31 per cent and increases serotonin and dopamine levels by 28 per cent and 31 per cent, respectively, according to researchers. Practice meditation increases dopamine by 65 per cent, according to a study.

2. Which fruit is good for depression?

Ans: According to studies, raw fruits and vegetables were found to be associated with better mental health and fewer symptoms of depression. These include carrots, dark leafy greens such as spinach, lettuce, cucumber, apples, bananas, grapefruit, other citrus fruits, fresh berries, and kiwi.

3. What helps improve mood?

Ans: Physical activities like walking, playing a team sport or time at the gym can improve your mood. Diet also plays an important role in maintaining emotional health. Be sure to eat a diet rich in whole grains, lean meats, vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts. Interacting with others can also help boost a person's mood.

4. Is milk good for depression?

Ans: Skim milk, yoghurt, low-fat cheeses, and other dairy products are rich in calcium, vitamin D, and protein and are great for your body for many reasons, including fighting depression.

5. Is banana good for depression?

Ans: Many people suffering from depression have been shown to feel less depressed after eating a banana. This may be because bananas contain tryptophan, a protein that the body converts into mood-lifting serotonin.

Read more about: mood happy foods mental health