14 Foods That Will Boost Your Mood, According to Science

Another reason to eat chocolate? Count us in.

There's plenty of evidence to suggest that activities like working out, spending some time outside during the day, and cuddling with a pet can lift your spirits, and as it turns out, what you eat can also have a big impact on your mood. Whether you've been afflicted with the winter blues or find yourself in a funk you just can't seem to get out of, the foods you put in your grocery cart and on your dinner plate can help.


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While no one food is a cure-all, and you should certainly consult a doctor if you think you're exhibiting symptoms of depression, there are several foods that have been scientifically proven to give people a happiness boost. Some of these foods, like Brazil nuts, contain compounds that stimulate the production of certain feel-good hormones, while other foods, such as coffee, can actually block compounds that may make you feel lousy.

As you may notice, many of the foods on this list are also considered superfoods and come with a myriad of health benefits that extend far beyond promoting a good mood. In other words, even if you don't need help ditching the winter blues, these multifunctional foods should be on your radar. Keep reading to find out what foods will boost your mood, according to doctors and science.

01 of 14

Salmon and Albacore Tuna

Raw salmon and tuna in a bowl

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Fatty fish, like salmon and tuna are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart and your mind. "The abundance of omega-3 fatty acids in fish like salmon and albacore tuna may contribute to improved mood and mitigation of depression through the impact of omega-3 fats as anti-inflammatory signaling molecules, and in their structural role in the brain," explains Casey Means, MD, a Stanford-trained physician and associate editor of the International Journal of Disease Reversal and Prevention. "It's important to remember that 60 percent of our brain tissue is made of fat, so the choices of fat we incorporate into our diet have a large impact on both the structure and function of our brains."

Two specific omega-3s—docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—have been associated with lower levels of depression. According to a 2016 review of scientific data, DHA and EPA help modulate the mechanisms of brain cell signaling, including the dopaminergic and serotonergic pathways. In other words, they can boost your mood. If you're not a fan of salmon or tuna, get your omega-3 fatty acids from foods like flaxseeds or tofu. But note that the body's absorption of omega-3 from plant based sources is not as effective as from seafood.

02 of 14

Dark Chocolate

Broken pieces of dark chocolate

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Yes, a chocolate bar can really help improve your mood! "Studies have shown that dark chocolate consumption is associated with lower odds of clinical relevant depressive symptoms, with individuals consuming the highest amount of dark chocolate having 57 percent lower odds of depressive symptoms than those who reported no dark chocolate consumption," says Dr. Means. "This may be related to chemicals in dark chocolate called cocoa polyphenols, which are potent antioxidants, and may improve inflammatory profiles. There are also psychoactive ingredients in chocolate, which may produce positive feelings."

However, when shopping for your mood-boosting chocolate, Dr. Means points out that the cocoa content is key. "It's ideal to get the darkest chocolate you can find, as this will have the least sugar and the most cocoa mass (excess sugar and subsequent spikes and crashes can lead to mood lability)," she explains. "I opt for 85 percent or above, and like organic brands such as Alter Eco and Green & Black's."

03 of 14

Fermented Foods

A jar of kimchi beside a jar of sauerkraut

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In addition to supporting good gut health, fermented foods, like sauerkraut, yogurt, and kimchi, may also have a positive impact on your mood. These foods contain probiotics, which, according to numerous studies, may boost serotonin levels. This is especially important because serotonin—sometimes called the "happy hormone"—is responsible for lifting your mood.

"The positive impact of fermented foods on mood may be related to the close relationship between gut function and brain health, with a fascinating bidirectional relationship existing between the two," Dr. Means shares. "One study showed that individuals with the highest intake of probiotic foods had significantly lower odds of depression severity and self-reported clinical depression. These effects were stronger in men."

Dr. Means adds: "There are several proposed mechanisms of why this might be the case, including the impact of fermented foods on blood sugar control and metabolic health, which impacts mood and the brain. Additionally, the enriched chemicals in fermented foods—unique flavonoids—may positively impact the microbiome to mitigate inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which can negatively impact the brain."

04 of 14

Brazil Nuts

A bowl full of Brazil nuts

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"Brazil nuts are one of the most potent sources of selenium, which has several functional roles in the body, including in the generation of key immune and antioxidant proteins called selenoproteins, as well as in the healthy production of thyroid hormones," says Dr. Means. Per a 2021 study, high selenium intake is associated with a lower prevalence of depression, even after adjusting for several variables. The inverse is also true, as selenium deficiencies are common in people with depression.

"Healthy thyroid function is closely implicated in mood, as both hyper and hypothyroidism can have significant mood effects," Dr. Means continues. "Optimal antioxidant and immune function is fundamental to mood status by ameliorating oxidative stress (which the brain is very sensitive to) and chronic inflammation, both of which can have negative effects on the brain."

05 of 14

Kale and Spinach

A bowl of raw spinach beside a bowl of raw kale

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Ready to kick those lingering winter blues? Eat your greens! According to Stacie J. Stephenson, CNS, a board member of The American Nutrition Association, dark leafy greens in particular (think kale, spinach, and Swiss chard) are rich in B vitamins. According to this 2016 Nutrients article, these vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Additionally, low levels of B12 and other B vitamins, such as B6 and folate, may be related to depression. If you're not a fan of dark leafy greens, you can get your fill of B vitamins by eating foods like bananas and eggs.

06 of 14


A cup of coffee with coffee beans on either side

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Though it may seem counterintuitive, drinking a cup of coffee can help pull you out of a funk. While caffeine might make some people feel jittery or anxious, it can also stop a naturally occurring compound called adenosine from attaching to brain receptors that encourage tiredness. This, in turn, increases alertness and attention, thus having a positive effect on your mood.

Caffeine has also been scientifically proven to increase the release of mood-boosting neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, but there's evidence to suggest that coffee's mood-boosting properties extend beyond the stimulant. In fact, a 2018 study of 72 adults found that both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee significantly improved people's mood, compared with a placebo beverage. This suggests that coffee may have other compounds that positively influence mood as well.

07 of 14

Beans and Lentils

Various colorful bowls of beans and lentils

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Stephenson points out that beans, legumes, and other complex carbohydrates that are slowly absorbed by the body can reduce cravings for less healthy carbs that can often lead to volatile blood sugar spikes, which, as Dr. Means points out, can cause moodiness and irritability. These complex carbs also provide microbiome-enhancing fiber and resistant starch, which helps keep your blood sugar stable and limits the likelihood of mood swings.

Need another reason to stock up on beans and lentils? Both foods are also good sources of tryptophan, which the body uses to make serotonin.

08 of 14


A spread that includes bread, dried pasta, and other carbohydrates

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Carbs rule when it comes to boosting your mood. Although way too many people have negative things to say about carbohydrates, carbs can actually make you feel good, provided you eat the right types of carbs and the right amounts for your body,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of Better Than Dieting, and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table. “When we don’t feel well, we usually revert back to comfort foods, the foods we were given as kids and the foods that make us feel better—foods that don’t require a lot of work to digest and absorb. Usually this type of food is carbohydrates. When it comes to carbs (such as whole grain bread, potatoes, pasta, etc.) comfort rules, for many reasons.” 

Taub-Dix adds: “Fat and protein take a long time to break down in our systems and carbohydrates get broken down more quickly. Therefore, you can derive energy and feel more uplifted the fastest from carbs. Carbohydrates also have a powerful effect on serotonin, a chemical in the brain that has a strong influence over both emotion and eating, thereby creating a calming sensation.”

09 of 14

Pumpkin Seeds

A bowl of roasted pumpkin seeds with a pumpkin in the background on either side

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Pumpkin seeds—also known as pepitas—are high in magnesium, with one ounce providing almost half your daily needs. About 50 percent of Americans don’t get enough of this essential mineral, and diets low in magnesium have been associated with depression,” shares Kim Kulp, RDN, and owner of the Gut Health Connection in San Francisco. 

According to a 2009 study of more than 5,700 adults, those who had low magnesium intake reported symptoms of depression and anxiety, while those with adequate magnesium intake were less likely to feel anxious or depressed.

10 of 14

Green Tea and Black Tea

A cup of black tea just in front of a cup of green tea

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The ritual of sipping a hot cup of tea may have mood-improving effects on its own, but it’s what is on the inside that really makes a difference. “L-theanine, an amino acid, is one of the most important substances in tea. Tea is actually a commonly consumed substance in the Blue Zones—a region where people live the longest. L-theanine is naturally found in green and black tea, and it has been linked to decreased stress and anxiety, and may improve your mood overall,” says Dr. Poonam Desai, a board-certified lifestyle medicine and emergency physician practicing concierge medicine in New York.

11 of 14


An assortment of different colored berries

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“Berries are usually known for their antioxidant benefits in boosting immunity, but they have another powerful compound called quercetin,” notes Rhyan Geiger, RDN and owner of Phoenix Vegan Dietitian. “Quercetin is a phytochemical that acts as a natural antidepressant in the nervous system. It inhibits levels of an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAO) that’s known to cause depression. Not only does it boost your mood, but it can also lower the risks of other neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s.”

12 of 14

Chia Seeds

A jar of spilled chia seeds

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Another food that’s a great source of magnesium? Chia seeds. “Chia seeds are tiny yet mighty. They’re packed with omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, and micronutrients, and are a good source of magnesium,” explains Johna Burdeos, R.D. “About two tablespoons meets close to 25 percent of the daily value for magnesium. Magnesium supports blood pressure and blood sugar regulation, and it is also involved in relaying signals between our brain and our body. Low levels of magnesium, according to research, is linked to depression and weakness.” 

13 of 14


An assortment of mushrooms on a serving board

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Mushrooms are more than just a hearty vegetable and occasional meat substitute. “Studies have associated mushroom consumption with lower risk of depression,” says Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RDN, and a family and culinary nutrition expert, who cited a multi-year study which found that those who ate mushrooms were less likely to be depressed. “Mushrooms are one of the few natural food sources of vitamin D, which tends to be low in people with depression. They are also sources of B-vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants, all of which support healthy moods,” she adds. “Mushrooms are high in the antioxidant ergothioneine, which could be responsible for their positive effect on mood. This antioxidant may lower oxidative stress, reducing the symptoms of depression."

14 of 14

Lean Meat

A sliced lean steak on a cutting board

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“This may come as a surprise, but I would add lean meat, such as beef, chicken, and pork, to the list of foods that positively affect mood because meat is an excellent source of iron. Adequate iron intake is an issue for millions of Americans, particularly women of childbearing age and pregnant women who have higher iron needs,” shares Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN, and author of Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy. “Iron is necessary to transport oxygen to the brain and the rest of the body as part of red blood cells. Low iron intake can easily result in iron-deficiency anemia, which is linked to some depressive symptoms including a lack of energy, irritability, and weakness.”

A 2020 study supports Ward’s claim. The study, which appeared in BMC Psychiatry, found that those with iron deficiency anemia had an increased risk of psychiatric disorders, regardless of other factors. As Ward clarified, the type of iron you consume is crucial as well. “Lean meat supplies heme iron, the type of iron found in animal foods that is more readily absorbed than the iron found in plant foods,” she adds.

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