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Can you boost your mood with food?

Hands slice strawberries on a cutting board.

Jan. 19, 2023—What we eat is tied to our emotional well-being—just ask anyone who's been sad and craved comfort food. But if you're choosing a food to help your emotional well-being, take a moment to consider your choice. The best foods to boost your mood might surprise you.

How food and mood are linked

People crave comfort foods for a reason. According to the American Heart Association, high-carb treats send tryptophan to our brains. This amino acid helps the body make serotonin, which makes us feel good. Unfortunately, we can become addicted to this feeling, even though the food causing it is also raising our blood sugar.

More bad news? Foods high in sugar, saturated fats or refined flour can activate inflammation in the gut. This inflammation is linked to depression—and it can affect the immune system. So even if comfort food gives us a little happiness bump, the long-term impact can be a physical and emotional bummer.

Fortunately, there are ways to lower this inflammation. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish can fight inflammation and even lower the risk of depression.

Foods that can support emotional health

There's no magic meal that can immediately improve emotional well-being. But a consistent diet that steers clear of highly processed foods may help to support mood over the long run. Consider foods rich in:

  • Folate: Look for dark, leafy greens like spinach. Brussels sprouts and asparagus are good options, too.
  • Fiber: Whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables can be good sources of this essential nutrient.
  • Carotenoids: These compounds are found in yellow and orange produce like carrots, apricots and tomatoes.
  • Vitamin B-12: Salmon and fortified breakfast cereals have this super nutrient in common.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Low levels have been linked to depression and impulsivity. Get a healthy dose from nut oils and fish.
  • Spices: Ginger, turmeric and black pepper can help fight inflammation.

Using food to improve mood is like the tortoise and the hare: Slow and steady wins the race.

Talk to your doc

To learn more about how what you eat may be impacting how you feel, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can provide personalized insight into your diet and well-being.

Looking for more ways to up your nutrition game? Check out three habits to help stop overeating.


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