Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Foods that can boost your mood

1/12/2023 by Ellie Rautio


You've heard the buzz around gut health and how it can affect your mental health. It's true. Food can play a key role in helping you lift your mood and improve your outlook on life. While nutrition psychiatry is a relatively new field, studies are showing a direct correlation between diet and mood disorders, and there are quite a few things we can do foodwise to stabilize our moods.

The science of how food affects our mood is based on how serotonin changes our brain chemistry. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that's important for many things, including sleep regulation, mood and appetite. Ninety percent to 95% of our serotonin receptors are in the gut. Studies show that high-quality diets are correlated with feel-good hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine.

Here is a list of foods that contain mood-boosting serotonin and dopamine:

  • Fruits and vegetables.
  • Whole grains.
  • Lean meats.
  • Fish.
  • Nuts and legumes.
  • Low-fat dairy.
  • Olive oil.

These foods are packed with mood-boosting nutrients, like zinc, folate, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, fiber, iron, B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. All of these also are correlated with energy, clarity and improvements in anxiety and depressive disorders. The Mediterranean diet often is used as the primary example as a diet strategy that also can help improve mood.

Studies show that poor diet quality or a diet that is primarily made up of high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt and processed foods is associated with increased feelings of anxiety and depression. This is because these foods typically don't contain enough of the nutrients our brain needs to help raise serotonin levels.

Here are foods to eat in moderation:

  • Processed foods.
  • Refined grains.
  • Processed meats, red meats.
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Sweets.

Key takeaway

Remember, no single food or type of food is a cure-all. Talk to your primary care clinician if you think you are depressed. However, if the occasional blue mood disrupts your life, think about what you've been eating and incorporate these changes into your diet.

Ellie Rautio is a Mayo Clinic dietetic intern. She earned her bachelor's degree in nutrition dietetics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.