6 Feel-Good Foods to Improve Your Mood

November 9, 2012

How to eat your way out of stress…literally.

Like it or not, what you eat makes a difference when it comes to your mental health. A study in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that people with a diet high in processed foods had a 58% higher risk of depression than those who ate very few processed foods.

While a poor diet can negatively impact your metabolism and brain chemistry, many of the foods you already have in your kitchen provide a whole foods pharmacy of phytochemicals, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins to boost your energy levels, keep you mellow and tamp down anger.

Here are my favorites when it comes to eating your way to a sunnier outlook:

1. Nuts & Seeds
Popping a handful of almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds may be the “happy pill” you’ve been looking for! These nuts and seeds are magnesium goldmines. As the ‘anti-stress’ or calming mineral, magnesium is involved in over 350 metabolic processes including muscle relaxation to release tension, constipation and feelings of anxiety and panic. Excess stress depletes the body’s magnesium reserves more rapidly, so it’s especially important to make sure you’re getting the recommended 400 mg daily.  As a rule of thumb, one ounce of most nuts or seeds contains about 40 mgto make sure you’re getting enough, you may want to consider a magnesium supplement.

2. Spinach
This leafy green is packed with folic acid, a mood-boosting B vitamin and brain-protecting antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals, which often lead to low energy and mood swings. Chlorophyll, the pigment response for spinach’s rich green color, provides plenty of magnesium—in fact, one cup of spinach provides 40 percent of your daily needs. Always steam your spinach, never boil, to preserve all its nutrients, especially fragile folate.

3. Salmon (and Chia Seeds)
Salmon is the best animal source of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Studies have shown omega-3s not only fight off depression and mood swings, but can also enhance memory and improve focus. And when it comes to anxiety, research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology found patients with anxiety disorder who supplemented with Omega-3s saw a significant improvement in tension and anxiety levels within three months. For a super-charged vegetarian source, try Chia Seeds—a staple of ancient cultures that actually contains up to eight times more omega-3s than salmon!

4. Blueberries
These colorful berries pack an antioxidant punch to help protect your body from the effects of stress. Anthocyanidins, the compound responsible for that beautiful blue pigment are estimated to have fifty times the antioxidant activity of both vitamin C and vitamin E.  Blueberries are also a great source of fiber to help relieve constipation that can manifest with excess tension. For a powerful pick-me-up, make a smoothie with a cup of berries and a scoop of nondenatured whey protein—a powerful serotonin level lifter.

5. Avocado
This delightful “fruit” has such a rich, creamy texture that it’s bound to boost your mood by taste alone! But, that’s not all. A true stress-fighting superfood, avocados are high in monounsaturated fat which helps keep brain receptors sensitive to serotonin; and potassium which helps to lower blood pressure. In fact, half an avocado contains more potassium than a medium-sized banana. As an added bonus, it’s also a great source of omega-3s, magnesium and tryptophan, which brings me to…

6. Turkey
With the holidays just around the corner, this is one feel-good food you’ll want to make sure and fill up on. It’s all thanks to tryptophan, an amino acid used to create serotonin and melatonin, and well-known for its role in the production of nervous system messengers—specifically those connected with relaxation, restfulness, and sleep.  A study in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that patients suffering from depression suffered worse symptoms when their brains contained less tryptophan. Since our bodies don’t produce tryptophan naturally, we must get it from food sources. If turkey’s not your thing, other rich sources include seeds (pumpkin and sesame), cheese (parmesan, swiss and gruyere) and shellfish (lobster and shrimp).

Eating these foods on a daily basis will help to perk up your mood, and leave you looking as good on the outside as you’ll feel on the inside!

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Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty books including The Fat Flush Plan series and her latest book, Radical Metabolism. She’s been rewriting the rules of nutrition for more than 40 years and is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of diet, detox and women’s health issues. 

For a FREE daily dose of tips and strategies for maintaining healthy weight, conquering insomnia, and much more…check out my Radical Health Tips.

I’d like to meet and greet you on my Facebook groups, so won’t you check us out at the Radical Metabolism RevolutionFat Flush Nation, or my Inner Circle!


  1. Pamela

    Hi Ms. Gittleman thank you for these wonderful articles on health and nutrition, 8 years ago I gradually did your fat flush plan and lost weight very quickly, I have a question how do you rid the body of stagnate waste in the lymphatic system I am sure this is a result of the cellulite I have that won’t go away, any suggestions?

    • Sierra

      Hi Pamela,
      You would benefit greatly from doing another 2 week Fat Flush, while incorporating the lymph-loving exercises like rebounding, walking, yoga, cycling, stretching, and dancing 🙂 Dry brushing can also be very helpful, and you may enjoy a detox bath of 1 cup sea salt and 1 cup baking soda once or twice per week.

  2. Gwen

    Hi Dr. Gittleman, Thanks for the great advise above, I love all of them. My problem is that I have high cholesterol and I heard that nuts can contribute. What is your opinion?
    Thanks, Gwen

    • Sierra

      Hi Gwen,
      Nuts eaten in the proper serving size will not negatively affect your cholesterol levels. In fact, the nourishing fats found in most nuts can actually improve cholesterol levels. If you are concerned, the best thing to do is emphasize green leafy veggies and fiber rich veggies in your diet- the bad cholesterol will bind to plant fibers and be eliminated from your body!

      • Gwen

        Thanks much Sierra, I appreciate and agree with your answer.


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