What you eat has a massive impact on how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. An extensive body of research links diet to anxiety, depression, and mood imbalances.
Eating to support your brain also means eating to support your gut. There are several important connections between gut health and mental health, and the gut is often referred to as the “second brain” for this reason. For example, the vast majority of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin is actually produced by gut bacteria. If your gut microbiome is imbalanced, processes like serotonin production may become impaired, leading to or exacerbating mental health issues.
Your diet should consist of a variety of whole foods to provide your gut and brain with all of the essential nutrients they need to help you feel your best. Just as important is avoiding processed, refined, and sugary foods that have been shown to negatively impact the gut, mood, and mental health.
Enjoying a balanced, nutrient-rich diet is key, but there are also several mental health superfoods that you might want to emphasize. So what are the best foods for boosting your mood? In this article, we’ll share 11 of our favorite grocery items to stock up on for better mental health.
Dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale, and swiss chard are among the most powerful superfoods on the planet. These greens are packed with immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory, and mood-stabilizing nutrients.
They’re also a great source of folate, which those with depression can be deficient in. And if that’s not enough, leafy greens also rich in vitamins A, C, E, and K, and several other essential nutrients.
When you hear “healthy fats,” fish are usually at the top of the list. Salmon, trout, mackerel, and sardines are among the healthiest, richest sources of mood-boosting omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for cognitive and mental health, and because we don’t produce our own, we have to get them from our diets. Omega-3s help to reduce inflammation, support brain function, and regulate levels of neurotransmitters like mood-influencing serotonin.
Adequate intake of both omega-3s and omega-3 rich fish has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. Salmon and sardines also contain vitamin D, which many individuals with mood disorders are lacking.
A healthy gut is essential for a healthy brain, and yogurt is a great way to help support both. Yogurt and other fermented foods (including kefir and kombucha) contain probiotics (healthy bacteria) and can improve the balance of your gut microbiome.
These healthy microbes can help produce mood-boosting brain chemicals like serotonin, reduce inflammation, and support a healthy stress response. Fermented foods like yogurt are also demonstrated to improve brain health, boost happiness levels, and improve anxiety.
Berries have long been regarded as superfoods thanks to their high antioxidant content. Antioxidants help repair and prevent cellular damage, reduce oxidative stress (an imbalance between stable and unstable or harmful molecules), and reduce inflammation.
Research has shown that regular consumption of antioxidants can significantly reduce anxiety and depression levels and symptoms. Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries are all great choices, either fresh or frozen.
Avocados help feed your gut and brain with healthy fats. They also contain multiple anxiety-reducing B vitamins, including B6, which is necessary for producing neurotransmitters like serotonin, and B5 and B9, which help to support a healthy nervous system and positive mood.
The healthy fats in avocados make them a great blood-sugar balancing snack, as well as a rich source of vitamins C, E, and K.
Chamomile tea is a popular bedtime drink for its calming and soothing effects (and pleasant taste). Chamomile has been used for relaxation and healing purposes for decades, and studies now show that chamomile tea can significantly reduce anxiety symptoms.
This herb boasts antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and nervous system calming properties, explaining its powerful effects.
Walnuts are another great source of omega-3s and are known to help support mood and brain health. Research has shown that depression scores are significantly lower among individuals who consume nuts, especially walnuts, every day than among those who don’t.
Walnuts are also an excellent source of protein, making them a smart choice for snacking between meals to keep blood sugar levels balanced throughout the day.
Good news if you have a sweet tooth: Dark chocolate has repeatedly been shown to help improve mood, depression, and stress levels. One study showed that individuals who consumed dark chocolate daily felt calmer and experienced a more positive mood than those who didn’t.
Dark chocolate is packed with flavonoids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to the brain, supporting mental health and mood. It’s also high in serotonin-promoting tryptophan and anxiety-reducing magnesium.
Finally, the pleasure derived from eating dark chocolate can’t be discounted, and research suggests this also plays a role in its mood-boosting effects. Make sure to look for 70% or higher dark chocolate and consume in moderation due to the sugar content.
Bananas are rich in vitamin B6, which is required to produce dopamine, serotonin, and other mood-supporting neurotransmitters. They’re also a great natural source of prebiotic fibers, which help feed beneficial gut bacteria and support a healthy microbiome.
The fiber content of bananas also helps slow down the release of sugar into your bloodstream, helping to stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce mood swings.
Turkey and other lean poultry (like chicken) are rich sources of protein that can help with blood sugar regulation. Turkey is also famously rich in tryptophan, the chemical that makes some people feel sleepy after holiday dinners. Tryptophan promotes serotonin production, supports mood and relaxation, and may help to reduce anxiety.
Asparagus is one of the best dietary sources of folate, a B vitamin with powerful effects on mental health. Low levels of folate are linked to neurotransmitter imbalances, anxiety, and depression.
Just one cup of asparagus is enough to get you two-thirds of the way to your daily recommended intake of folate. Asparagus is also a great source of fiber and vitamins A, C, and K.
Our guts and brains rely on several different nutrients to support our mental and overall health, and diet is one of the most important factors when it comes to mood, anxiety, and depression.
Several foods can help heal mood imbalances, from avocados and fatty fish to yogurt, dark chocolate, and chamomile.
These superfoods are all rich in nutrients that have been shown to help reduce inflammation, support neurotransmitter function, and boost mood.
Remember to keep the bigger picture in mind when it comes to eating for your mental health. A diet supporting your gut and brain should be balanced, varied, and filled with whole foods, with bonus points for these mood-boosting superstars.
Ellie Ellias - Contributing Writer, Physician’s Choice