Healthy Mood Foods: What to Eat When You’re Down

Healthy Mood Foods: What to Eat When You’re Down

Healthy Mood Foods: What to Eat When You’re Down

When you’re stressed or feeling down, do you reach for a pint of ice cream or a bag of chips to soothe you? You’re not the only one; emotional eating is a common coping mechanism. It is important to choose healthy mood foods.

There’s biology behind why we gravitate to foods high in fat and sugar when emotionally upset: The brain’s reward and pleasure systems are activated. It’s the same area of the brain associated with drug addiction.

Research shows mood foods high in simple carbohydrates and fats like donuts, French fries, soda, etc. also make poor moods worse. Blood sugars spike after consuming simple carbohydrates that make you feel good, but then they fall quickly acerbating a lousy mood. The effects can last up to two days.

There is good news, however: The research discovered that healthy foods triggered the same pleasure response without the highs and lows associated with the high fat and carb indulgences.

"’… the link between what you eat and your mood, your energy, how you sleep, and how well you think is much more immediate. What you eat or don't eat for breakfast will have at least a subtle effect by mid-afternoon, and what you're eating all day will have a huge impact today and down the road.’" Elizabeth Somer, RD., “Eat Your Way to Happiness”[i]

Studies also showed that people with positive moods tend to choose healthy foods. Instead of reaching for the donuts or bag of cookies next time your feeling down consider these foods not only because they are healthy, but they can also help elevate your mood.

Healthy Comfort Foods

Probiotics, such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria can help elevate mood because gut bacteria produce neurochemicals that affect neurologic functions. Probiotics are found in yogurt with live active cultures, kefir, and kombucha.

Chickpeas and other proteins contain high amounts of tryptophan. Tryptophan is needed to produce serotonin, the body's mood-enhancing hormone. Serotonin is also required for restful sleep. Hummus is made from chickpeas and makes a nice dip for vegetables. Bananas, pineapple, plantains, and walnuts also have a significant amount of tryptophan.

Dark chocolate (70 percent and above) boosts endorphins which give a sense of comfort and well-being. Dark chocolate is healthy in moderate amounts, so be careful not to over binge.

Complex carbohydrates have a positive effect on mood. They release sugar slowly which makes you feel fuller for a longer time. Next time instead of grabbing the potato chips, eat some air-popped popcorn or low-sugar granola.

Omega-3 levels research shows influence mental states. Low amounts of omega-3 are associated with depression, pessimism, and impulsivity. So, throw some walnuts, peanuts, or flaxseeds on your granola or mix into the popcorn.

Thiamine or vitamin B1 improves a sense of well-being. Thiamine is found in oats, yogurt, sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, and other foods. Try sprinkling nutritional yeast onto popcorn for a healthy mood food.

Healthy Snack ­ ­– For a healthy, satisfying, and uplifting mood food mix popcorn, macadamia nuts or other kinds of nuts, chopped dark chocolate, and pieces of dried pineapple. Bon Appétit.

The gut impacts brain function and mood. So, pause before reaching for the high fat and sugar comfort foods that can make your mood worse and add unnecessary calories. Instead, eat foods that will help you get past what made you unhappy or stressed.


Gaynor, Mitchell, M.D. Diet and Depression. Retrieved from

Haupt, Angela. Food and Mood: 6 Ways Your Diet Affects How You Feel (August 31, 2011). Retrieved from

Ross, Carolyn C., M.D., M.P.H. Healthy gut, Healthy Mind: 5 Foods to Improve Mental Health. Retrieved from

Heshmat, Shahram, Ph.D. 5 Reasons Why We Crave Comfort Foods. Retrieved from

[i] Haupt, Angela, Food and Mood: 6 Ways Your Diet Affects How You Feel, August 31, 2011. Web.


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