You probably already have a pretty good idea of what is “good mood food” and what is “bad mood food.” You know that too much coffee, sugar, alcohol, or processed foods are not going to give you that warm and fuzzy happy feeling all day long. At the same time, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean protein can really support a good mood all day long.

Now let’s get down to specifics and talk about the categories of food that really support mood. Some of these you may already know, and some you may not. Simply scan the list and take note of any good mood foods that are new to you so that you can look for them the next time you go grocery shopping.

High Fiber Foods

  • Fresh and dried  fruits (apples with skin, oranges, bananas, strawberries, raisins)
  • Grains, cereals, and pasta (bran flakes, oatmeal, air-popped popcorn, brown rice, whole grain bread)
  • Legumes, nuts, and seeds (lentils, lima beans, sunflower seeds, almonds, pistachios)
  • Vegetables (green peas, broccoli, turnip greens, sweet corn, raw carrots)

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

After analyzing the food diaries of 281 young adults for 21 days, researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand say they found a day-to-day relationship between those who reported a higher fruit and vegetable consumption and positive mood.

On days when people ate more fruits and vegetables, they reported feeling calmer, happier and more energetic than they normally did," said lead author Dr. Tamlin Conner in a statement. Furthermore, researchers point out that eating more fruits and veggies actually predicted improvements in positive mood the next day, suggesting that healthy eating has a direct impact on mental well-being... mental well-being peaked among those who ate seven portions of fruits and vegetables a day.

The study was published in the British Journal of Health Psychology. Reported in the New York Daily News.  

Favorite vegetables among the experts include:

  • Avocados: contain healthy fats and some claim this veggie increases blood flow to the brain
  • Corn: has plenty of vitamin B, which produces a calm feeling
  • Tomatoes: have plenty of potassium, B vitamins, and calcium
  • Broccoli: has good iron content, fuels brain to improve mood
  • Red Peppers: packed with minerals, produces endorphins if spicy, fuels the brain

Favorite fruits for good mood include:

  • Blueberries: most antioxidant of any fruit, packed with mood boosting nutrients
  • Grapes: one serving has more than ½ of the daily recommended amounts of vitamins K and C. Grape seeds, edible, are packed with antioxidants.
  • Strawberries: filled with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals, including manganese, potassium, and vitamin C.
  • Citrus fruits: contain the antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, a mood booster also found in chocolate.
  • Bananas: are an excellent source of vitamins B6 and C, plus potassium

Complex Carbohydratescarbs

Complex carbohydrates are those starches high in fiber and filled with whole grains. Sources include whole grain cereals and breads, air-popped popcorn, brown rice, plus fresh fruits and vegetables. The U.S. government advises that complex carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories. According to dietitian Elizabeth Somer, if you opt for a snack comprised of complex carbohydrates, “You’ll feel happier and more relaxed very quickly.” Complex carbs also keep your blood sugar on an even keel over a long period of time, preventing that “sugar crash” in the afternoon.

Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

A recent 9-month study of bipolar disorder (manic depression) was stopped after only 4 months because omega-3 s were so effective at smoothing out moods. The health and state of your brain has a huge impact on your mood. According to registered dietician Kate Geagan, omega-3 fatty acids play a big role in brain health, and thus mood.

“...Omega-3 fats are one of the most important when it comes to boosting your mood. The brain is 60% fat, and particularly loves omega-3 fats. Most Americans get far too little omega-3 in their diet. And what’s the problem with that? Growing evidence suggests that consuming inadequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with depression and poor moods. By eating this way, you’ll enjoy a double brain benefit, too: not only do foods rich in omega-3 fat help fight crankiness and improve your outlook today, they help you maintain a robust memory and significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia as you age.”

Kate Geagan, R.D.

Elaine Magee, another registered dietician, stresses the importance of omega-3 fatty acids as mood stabilizers and mental well-being. She adds that eating plant foods rich in these fatty acids is also probably a good idea.

“"I want to point out that there are also smart fats for the brain, so to speak. Again, we're getting back to omega-3 fatty acids from fish and plants, and a lot of new research has just come out linking these smart fats to helping reduce Alzheimer's. More needs to be done, but it looks very encouraging.”

Elaine Magee, MPH, R.D.

Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

  • Seafood: halibut, oysters, salmon, sardines, trout, and fresh tuna
  • Foods fortified with omega-3s: eggs, milk, juice, soy milk, yogurt, bread, cereal, pasta, peanut butter
  • Micro-algae: AFA blue green algae, spirulina, chlorella
  • Leafy Greens: kale, spinach, watercress, brussel sprouts, parsely

Nutrient-Rich Foods

Once you start eating a plant-based diet of nutrient-dense, whole foods, your moods will level out, your blood sugar will stop spiking and crashing, and your thinking will get clearer. You will see that food is much more than just fuel for your day.
Drew Ramsey, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute

The more nutrients are packed into the food you eat, the less work your body has to do to digest the food and extract useful nutrients. Most nutrient-rich foods have already been mentioned in the lists above. Here are some specific categories of nutrient-rich foods that contribute to good mood.

Iron: helps avoid fatigue, inattention, and low moods

  • red meat
  • egg yolks
  • dried fruit
  • beans
  • liver
  • artichokes

Thiamine: supports good mood, self-confidence, overall energy

  • cereal grains
  • pork
  • yeast
  • cauliflower
  • eggs

Folic Acid: B-vitamin that supports mood

  • green veggies
  • oranges
  • grapefruit
  • whole wheat bread
  • nuts
  • sprouts

Foods with Mood-Boosting Compounds

Research has shown that certain foods contain compounds and neurotransmitters that can support and boost mood. Consider these examples of nutrient-dense foods and their effects on mood:

  • how-to-make-yogurt-1Greek Yogurt: This form of yogurt often has twice the protein of traditional types of yogurt. Eating protein can raise levels of mood-boosting neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. Protein intake also boosts alertness and energy.
  • Meat: While meat keeps going on and off the list of “healthy foods,” the fact of the matter is that animal products including dairy, eggs, seafood, and “pasture-raised” beef and chicken are quite healthy. In addition, these foods are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA), as well as CLA, which is associated with reducing abdominal fat.
  • Milk, Fish, Sunlight: We know, sunlight isn’t a food that you eat, yet, like milk and fish, sunlight is a rich source of Vitamin D. According to a 2010 International Archives of Medicine study, low moods are often associated with a deficiency in this vitamin, particularly in American women.
  • Sunflower Seeds, Leafy Greens, Asparagus: These foods are all high in folate (or B9). According to the National Institute of Aging, folate and other B vitamins help the body produce mood-regulating hormones, including the “feel good” hormone serotonin.
  • Chocolate: Dark, high quality chocolate contains both theobromine and phenylethyamine (PEA). Both of these contribute to stress reduction. In fact, one Swiss study found that people who suffered from high anxiety could reduce their levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) by eating a little more than an ounce of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate daily for two weeks.

The importance of staying well-hydrated cannot be over-emphasized when it comes to maintaining a good mood. According to registered dietician Elizabeth Somer, not drinking enough fluids can cause mild dehydration and fatigue, leading to a low mood.

According to Maggie Shapiro, MPH. at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, most people need about 64 ounces of fluids daily. Water is best. Avoid excessive caffeine or alcohol. Staying properly hydrated, according to Shapiro, maintains body temperature and pH, supports metabolism and other physical functions. The result? You avoid fatigue and decreased overall performance.


Also check out the Supplements and Lifestyle Changes pages.