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10 mood-boosting foods!

Feeling down lately? Or just a bit…bleh? Your diet could be partially to blame. If your diet lacks specific nutrients, over time your mood can take a hit.

If you reach for sugar-laden treats (hello a whole block of chocolate…) or refined carbs when you’re feeling low or stressed out, you’d understand the short-lived feelings of comfort that are subsequently followed by a moody blood sugar crash and slump. Instead of finishing that bag of chips while you’re fretting over deadlines; here are some powerhouse essentials that’ll boost your mood and overall well being LONG-TERM, for a long-lasting REAL high!

Research has proven that simple shifts in diet can significantly boost mood and improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. A recent clinical trial, known as the SMILES trial split people with diagnosed depression into 2 groups. The first had no form of therapy, but switched to a health Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, fruits, olive oil, eggs, nuts and seeds. The second group met regularly with a support group, however were put on a diet full of processed deli meats, salty snacks and sweets. After three months: group one showed far fewer depression symptoms than group 2, and in fact more than a third of them even met the criteria for being depressed!

10 foods to boost your mood!

These 10 foods have all been shown time and time over to improve mood, elevate energy and ease stress.

These foods will balance hormones and neurotransmitter release and elevate vitamin levels over time – so ensure to include these in your regular diet for the biggest benefits!

1. Kale

Leafy green veggies contain the B vitamin: folate. Low folate levels are associated with depression, as well as impaired metabolism of happy hormones serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. As well as this, the fibre helps to balance blood sugar and they contain an impressive amount of non-haem iron for energy production!

Additionally, leafy greens are rich in magnesium – a mineral that helps to manage anxiety, however nearly half of all Australians don’t get enough of it!

After periods of high stress like university finals, finishing a pile of work deadlines, or whatever life throws at me: I ensure I throw in a bunch of dark leafy greens into my diet to help balance my brain and fuel those feel-good hormones again.

Get your dose from the likes of:

  • Kale

  • Spinach

  • Swiss chard

  • Edamame

  • Artichokes

  • Broccoli

  • Turnip greens

  • Okra

  • Artichokes

1 cup of cooked spinach provides nearly 30% of your daily intake for a variety of B vitamin – so throw it into soups and stir-fries, or make a raw spinach salad for lunch!

2. Beans & legumes

These small but mighty pulses provide a great source of folate – a B vitamin that aids in nervous system regulation. A cup of cooked lentils boosts a huge 90% of the recommended daily intake to prevent low mood.

As well as this, the high fibre content aids blood sugar balance, which keeps you full and mood calm and even. The levels of vitamin B6 helps the body produce mood-boosting neurotransmitters, and the iron content aids energy production.

TIP: To make lentils easier to digest, soak them a few hours prior to cooking.

3. Salmon

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and anchovies are mega rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, a key mood-boosting nutrient our bodies can’t produce alone! Omega-3s, especially EPA and DHA and critical for nervous system and brain development, and studies haven proven that communities that consume more fatty fish are less likely to experience anxiety and depression.

Omega-3s alter brain chemicals in charge of mood, specifically dopamine and serotonin – leading to better mood and mental health! “About 60% of the dry weight of the brain is fat, with about 30% of that in the form of omega 3” explains Dr. Eva Cyhlarova the head of research at the Mental Health Foundation.

Aside from an impressive hit of omega-3s, salmon is also high in vitamin B12, vitamin D and protein! Vitamin B12 helps convert amino acids into neurotransmitters, as well as aiding the work of vitamin B12.

Regular doses of omega-3s improves mood and improves brain health by keeping brain cells flexible – so your brain’s messengers (neurotransmitters) can fire more efficiently.

Aim for 1 serving (140g) of oily fish a week. If you’re vegan, or just not into fish, you can also get your dose from walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and a sour herb called purslane.

A study published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that those who consumed the most fish were less likely to have depression symptoms. Another study found that omega-3 supplements before medical students exams reduced anxiety symptoms by a huge 20%.

4. Green tea

Instead of guzzling 3 sugary mochas next time you’re worrying, swap it for a hot cup of jasmine green tea to brighten a dark mood and soothe any nerves. Studies have concluded that 2-3 cups of green tea a day reduces depression symptoms. Green tea is full of antioxidants like catechins and epigallocatechin gallate which lower stress hormones and protect cells from free radicals; which hence protects you from disease, blood clots and hardening of your arteries.

Research is finding that regular green tea drinkers also have a lower risk of stroke and heart disease, plus lower cholesterol! These compounds also lower anxiety, as those who drink green tea regularly show an increase in lower-frequency alpha brain-waves, associated with relaxation and calm.

Green tea also contains the mighty amino acid L-theanine, which improves attention and focus, whilst keeping you zen. This compound is able to pass through the blood-brain barrier, so it can directly affect brain plasticity and act on the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (your body’s stress response system), enabling it to affectively reduce cortisol and stress.

Researchers comment that it promotes a “relaxed, capable state of mind – you are in the zone”, partially because L-theanine improves the signal-to-noise ratio, whereby the brains signals are increased, whilst noise decreases, allowing deeper focus. Additionally, L-theanine increases the number of inhibitory neurotransmitters (which balances mood out), whilst modulating serotonin and dopamine (which make you feel good!)

5. Blueberries

The humble blueberry boast an impressive antioxidant profile. These berries have MORE antioxidants than any other common fruit or veggie, that specifically nourish the brain. Blueberries are also rich in flavonoids which help regulate mood, improve memory and protect the brain from ageing. A recent study in animals found that the anti-inflammatory chemicals in blueberries may treat PTSD and other serious mental health conditions, however human trials will need to confirm these findings.

6. Brazil nuts

Add 3 brazil nuts to your day to hit your recommended intake of selenium! This mineral boosts mood, prevents fatigue and anxiety, as well as protecting your body from damage caused by oxidative stress. Try brazil nuts sprinkled over your breakfast or salads!

7. Bananas

Bananas are a mood POWERHOUSE! They contain an assortment of brain-lovers like the amino acid tryptophan; vitamins A, C & B6; potassium, iron, phosphorous and fibre. Bananas aid the absorption of tryptophan in the brain, whilst vitamin B6 aids the conversion of tryptophan into the mood-lifter serotonin!

Eat one by itself as a snack, freeze chunks to add to smoothies for a deliciously thick & creamy texture, or slice it into your morning porridge or yoghurt.

8. Fermented foods

Your gut produces the majority of your happy hormone serotonin. Around 95% to be precise! This means by taking care of your gut, you’re taking care of your mind too. The bacteria in your gut sends and receives signals to the brain via the gut-brain axis, so these little guys are able to actually TALK to your brain. If they’re unhappy, you’re unhappy. So let’s keep them happy and fed with probiotics!

A diet rich in probiotics, or via supplementation, is linked to improved gut symptoms and depression – where areas that control mood in the brain VISIBLY CHANGE after taking a probiotic for around 6 weeks.

You can take a probiotic supplement (pill) or get them from your diet via:

  • yoghurt

  • kefir

  • sauerkraut

  • kimchi

  • miso

  • tempeh

  • pickled vegetables

TIP: Start slow! Whilst fermented foods like sauerkraut are incredible for feeding your good gut bacteria, which will subsequently improve your mood, a sudden influx in these probiotic-rich foods can cause gas and bloating. With things like kimchi and sauerkraut, start with ½ to 1 tablespoon with meals to begin with, treating it like a condiment. Try ½ a bottle of kombucha initially instead of the whole thing, so you allow your body to get used to the probiotics! Little and often is better than a huge plate of fermented foods once a week, because this allows constant stimulation and energizing of the microbes in your gut.

9. Dark chocolate

(angel music plays)

Yes, you can eat chocolate in the name of health. Hallelujah. I love adding cacao powder to my smoothies or hot chocolate’s to get all the delicious taste, minus the sugar. The ancient Mayan’s of central America called cacao “the food of the gods”, and are considered the first to consume the bean. Cacao was also revered as medicine in Mesoamerican society before it made its way to Europe in the mid-1500s. And turns out, they weren’t wrong: the benefits are endless! Cacao is rich in health-promoting antioxidants, minerals and flavonoids. Research has shown that cacao helps protect the ageing brain, helps to lower blood pressure and heart disease risk, and protects nerves from inflammation.

Eating a little bit of dark chocolate (around 1 ½ squares) everyday has been associated with reduced stress hormones like cortisol. This may be due to the antioxidant content in dark chocolate, so the darker, the better. Chocolate also contains the compound phenlethlamine, which boosts endorphins and the ‘bliss chemical’ anandamide. This “bliss chemical” binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain to promote a serene feeling akin to that of hemp oil. Chocolate’s reputation as a feel-good treat is likely related to the high magnesium content in cacao, which aids relaxation and energy production.

10. Oats

Oats are an ideal mood booster due to their low glycemic index. This means they slowly release energy into the bloodstream, keeping blood sugar and mood stable instead of spiking a rush that dips quickly – leaving you more irritable. As well as this, oats contain the mood-booster selenium!

They're are also a fantastic source of B vitamins – which are vital for brain health:

  • Vitamin B1, otherwise known as thiamin helps turn glucose into energy,

  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) is needed to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which allows memory retention and quick learning

  • Vitamin B6 aids conversion of the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin

  • Vitamin B12 is involved in the production of happy neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine which boost and regulate mood!

Get your dose of happy whole-grains from the likes of:

  • steel-cut oatmeal

  • brown rice

  • quinoa

  • wild rice

  • millet

  • amaranth

If you’re unsure whether a product is a wholegrain, a great rule of thumb is to check the nutritional information on the back, and ensure that for every 5 grams of carbohydrate, there is at least 1 gram of dietary fibre (this means the product can be considered a wholegrain).


Written by Nutritionist student and health enthusiast, Yasmin Jackson.

Published by Femina & Co.

Follow her IG: @knowrish

Follow us: @feminandco

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