Top 10 mood-boosting foods
Want to feel better and more energised? Nutritionist Kerry Torrens highlights the foods that are packed with the nutrients your body needs to make serotonin, the happy hormone.
When your mood is low it is tempting to turn to sugary, high-calorie treats to lift your spirits but there are better food choices to help shift your outlook. Combining the right food choices with stress relief, better sleep and regular exercise may be the answer to a brighter, cheerier outlook.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides. You can also learn more about the top 10 foods to boost your brainpower and our favourite mood-boosting recipes.
Top 10 mood boosting foods
1. Oily varieties of fish
We’ve long been told that fish is ‘brain food’ and there’s convincing evidence to support this. Studies suggest regular consumption reduces age-related brain loss and may improve memory – it’s the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, that appear to be responsible for this. They do this by promoting electrical signalling between nerve cells, allowing the brain to communicate quickly and easily. It’s also thought that they may help improve mood.
Fish recipes to try
Creamy garlic & lemon spinach salmon
Warm mackerel & beetroot salad
Pasta with salmon & peas
Sardines with chickpeas, lemon & parsley
2. Dark chocolate
Full of feel-good compounds and high in protective plant flavonoids, chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70% appears to increase calmness and lift mood.
Choose a product with minimal added sugar – be sure to read labels and enjoy one or two small squares only.
Dark chocolate recipes
Healthy chocolate milk
Chocolate chia pudding
A useful source of vitamin D, this ‘sunshine vitamin’ is associated with better moods. It's found in only a few food sources but one of the most reliable is eggs as well as oily fish, fortified breakfast cereals and spreads.
Wholesome egg recipes
Perfect scrambled eggs
Easy egg muffins
Baked eggs with spinach & tomato
4. Fermented foods
These foods, which include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha, may improve the health of the gut by changing the balance of gut bacteria and in so doing may influence levels of the feel-good hormone, serotonin.
Check out our selection of fermented recipes.
A great source of vitamin B6, which is important for making feel-good brain chemicals including dopamine and serotonin, bananas are also a good source of natural sugars combined with fibre which helps stabilise energy levels. Some of the fibre they provide is in the form of resistant starch, a type favoured by our beneficial gut bacteria.
Brilliant banana recipes
Baked banana porridge
Peanut butter & banana toast
Vegan banana bread
Coconut & banana pancakes
6. Pumpkin seeds
A useful source of the amino acid tryptothan, which is needed for the production of serotonin, these little seeds also provide zinc and the relaxing mineral, magnesium.
Add pumpkin seeds to your diet
Pumpkin seed butter
Roasted pumpkin seeds
Spicy pumpkin soup
Having the edge over other nuts, walnuts are an especially good source of omega-3 fatty acids – munching just a few a day may even improve mood and reduce depression.
As well as enjoying walnuts as a snack, try them in these recipes
Aubergine, lentil & walnut ragu
Charred broccoli, lemon & walnut pasta
Date & walnut loaf
Chicken and turkey are excellent sources of protein, including the amino acid tryptophan that is needed for serotonin production. This lean meat also provides vitamin B12, a B vitamin that may delay the onset of low moods.
Try these tasty midweek meals
Chicken satay salad
Healthier chicken balti
Tasty turkey meatballs
Spiced turkey burgers
9. Beans and pulses
High in fibre and a good source of plant-based protein, beans and lentils are an excellent source of B vitamins, which may help mood by increasing the production of feel-good dopamine and serotonin. The B group of vitamins plays an important role in nerve signalling allowing proper communication between the brain and the nervous system.
They are also a good source of zinc, magnesium and non-haem iron which may lift spirits and reduce fatigue.
Try these tasty bean suppers
Kidney bean curry
Pulled chicken black bean chilli
Mexican bean soup guacamole
Red lentil, chickpea & chilli soup
The caffeine in coffee prevents a naturally occurring compound called adenosine from attaching to brain receptors – this keeps us more perky and alert. Caffeine also increases the release of mood-boosting dopamine.
Make perfect coffee at home
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Have you struggled with the winter blues or do you have a secret weapon when it comes to keeping your moods uplifted? Let us know in the comments below.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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