Five Best Mood-Boosting Foods

By Katherine Brooking, MS, RD

Can you eat yourself happy? I don’t mean the feeling that comes from having a chocolate cake or your favorite cheeseburger and fries. I’m talking about nutritious foods that can help keep your blues at bay, boost your mood, and return your zest for life. After all, we are what we eat.

Omega-3 fats
Multiple studies have shown a close connection between omega-3 fatty acids and a lower risk of depressive disorders. Although the research is still preliminary, omega-3 fatty acids are believed to influence mood. Certain inflammatory chemicals in the brain called cytokines can cause feelings of depression. Omega-3 fatty acids block the action of these cytokines. Recent clinical studies have found that patients with a variety of mental health disorders – from anxiety to bipolar depression ¬– may benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. Before starting any treatment however, always consult your physician.

Foods rich in omega-3 fats include oily fish (salmon, mackerel and sardines), ground flaxseeds, canola oil, walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs.

Vitamin D
You’ve probably heard about the benefits of vitamin D for bone health. But recent research suggests that vitamin D might also help relieve mood disorders. Scientists have found that vitamin D can boost serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for mood. In particular, vitamin D seems to help the type of depression called “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD), also known as the winter blues.

Vitamin D can be obtained from moderate sun exposure, depending on where you live and the time of year. But don’t overlook food sources of vitamin D such as fat-free and low-fat dairy, fortified soymilk, fatty fish and egg yolks. Because vitamin D-rich foods are limited, it may help to take a daily multi-vitamin, which provides 600 IU (800 IU if you are over age 70).

Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12, along with other B vitamins, appears to benefit mental health as well. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to a number of serious problems, including anemia, nervous system disorders, impaired mental function, and depression. Observational studies have found that as many as 30 percent of patients hospitalized for depression are deficient in vitamin B12.

Foods rich in vitamin B12 include shellfish (clams, oysters, crab), wild salmon (fresh or canned), fortified whole-grain breakfast cereal, lean beef, cottage cheese, low-fat yogurt, milk (skim, skim plus, 1 percent reduced-fat), and eggs.

Another important B vitamin is folate. It can help boost mood and reduce fatigue. Scientists believe folate is used by the body to create the “feel good” neurotransmitter seratonin. As with vitamin B12, observational studies have shown that people who suffer from depression are more likely to have folate deficiencies than those who don’t.

Foods rich in folate are leafy greens like kale, broccoli, and spinach as well as fortified whole grains, beans and lentils, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, and oranges.

Not only does it give you energy to start the day, studies show that eating breakfast can lift your mood, too. People who eat breakfast report feeling less tired and irritable than those who skip it. A balanced breakfast has also been found to improve concentration, job performance, and even help manage weight. That’s definitely something to feel good about!

A solid breakfast should contain complex carbohydrates (from whole grain cereals like oats, wheat or bran) and protein (from foods like eggs, low fat dairy, and nuts). Try some whole-wheat waffles topped with nonfat (or low-fat) Greek yogurt, fresh berries, and walnuts, or a veggie omelet with a side serving of whole-grain toast.

Katherine Brooking, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian, writer and expert contributor to numerous television programs. She has appeared on The TODAY Show, Live with Regis & Kelly, The Early Show on CBS, Good Morning America Health, and many others. She covers health and wellness topics in SELF Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and New York Daily News. For more information go to

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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