Best Foods to Eat for Your Mood -- and a Few Bad Ones

·4 min read

Spinach, turkey and walnuts top the list, while cupcakes and caffeine are among the worst for your mood.

As Virginia Woolf once said, "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." Indeed, what we eat (and drink) affects more than just our waistline and cholesterol numbers. Even small choices, like what kind of lunch meat you slap on your sandwich each day, could influence your disposition. Here's a roundup of mood-boosting foods -- along with some mood busters to keep off your plate.

Mood booster: Seafood

Lobster, oysters, clams and other sea creatures contain hefty amounts of selenium, a mineral that helps combat mental decline, anxiety and depression. Research suggests that selenium deficiency is associated with adverse mood states. The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends that males and females age 14 and above consume 55 micrograms of selenium daily. Aside from seafood, selenium sources include Brazil nuts, seeds, lean meat, whole grains and low-fat dairy, says registered dietitian Keri Gans, author of "The Small Change Diet."

Mood booster: Spinach

Although spinach may not produce Popeye-like muscles, the leafy-green vegetable could lift your spirits. Spinach is filled with folic acid, antioxidants and magnesium, all of which are linked to a good mood. In one study, researchers observed that people who got the least folic acid were 67% more likely to suffer from depression than those who got the most. Two cups of spinach will satisfy half your daily folic acid needs -- so eat up. (The federal government recommends 400 daily micrograms.)

Mood booster: Citrus fruits and red grapes

Research suggests that plant-based foods that contain polyphenols -- including citrus fruits and red grapes -- may have protective effects on the body, says Maxine Smith, a clinical dietitian with Cleveland Clinic's Center for Human Nutrition. "Consuming higher amounts of foods rich in polyphenols may help reduce risk for depression and help decrease depression," Smith says.

Mood booster: Walnuts

In a sea of nuts, walnuts stand alone. They're the only variety to deliver a serious dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which help combat depression and improve mood. They also contain antioxidants and essential fatty acids that promote brain health. Research published in November 2020 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that consuming walnuts could have anti-inflammation benefits for older people. The study involved 634 participants, with a mean age of 69. Previous research suggests that walnuts have a positive effect on cognition. (Since 1 ounce of walnuts packs about 185 calories, steer clear of large servings.)

Mood booster: Fermented foods

Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi are a few examples of tangy fermented foods that research suggests are linked to less anxiety, stress and depression. "Beneficial bacteria and yeasts are created during the fermentation process that contribute to a healthy 'gut garden,' which affects mood," Smith says.

Mood booster: Turkey

Don't reserve turkey for Thanksgiving: It's such a potent mood-booster that it deserves to be eaten year-round, says registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer, author of "Eat Your Way to Happiness." Turkey is loaded with tryptophan, a chemical that stimulates serotonin production and calms the brain. Insufficient serotonin can increase the likelihood of depression and other mood disorders. Turkey also packs protein, which helps keep you energetic and alert.

Mood buster: Cupcakes

These treats may not be as sweet as they look. A large helping of sugar and white flour, Gans says, will give you a cheap thrill as your blood sugar soars, followed by a headachy, moody crash when it plummets. Same goes for doughnuts, cookies and similar high-sugar treats. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a fruit parfait or a piece of dark chocolate for dessert.

Mood buster: Caffeine

No need to wipe out your coffee or soda supply, but moderation is key. More than two caffeinated beverages a day increases anxiety and tension and interferes with sleep, Somer says. If you're already feeling depressed, cut back on caffeine from coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa and soda. Try water, herbal tea or a fruit smoothie instead.

Mood buster: Artificial sweeteners

As alternatives to sugar, artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, aspartame and saccharin may sound healthier and save calories, Smith says. However, they wreak havoc on the body's normal healthy handling of sugar and carbs. Research suggests sugar substitutes are associated with unhealthy gut bacteria and a decrease of healthy gut bacteria. Experimenting with natural non-calorie sweeteners such as stevia and monk-fruit extract or using just a touch of molasses, maple syrup or honey may add just the right amount of flavor in a healthier form.

To recap, here are six foods good for your mood, and three that aren't:

These six foods are good for your mood:

-- Seafood.

-- Spinach.

-- Citrus fruits and red grapes.

-- Walnuts

-- Fermented foods.

-- Turkey.

These three foods aren't good for your mood:

-- Cupcakes.

-- Caffeine.

-- Artificial sweeteners.

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