6 Foods That Will Boost Your Mood

Did you know that the foods you eat can affect your mood?

"Many people are aware that there is a link between physical health and diet, but they don't make the connection between what they eat and how they feel emotionally," says Elizabeth Somer, RD, MA, and author of Food and Mood and Eat Your Way to Happiness.

Theresa Creamer, MS, RD, CDN, and registered dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, agrees: "Research is still unclear about the exact link between various foods and mood, but some studies suggest a link exists between mood and certain nutrients in food."

Emotional Eating Has Never Been So Healthy

If you've been relying on your favorite junk foods to get you through a bad day, try one of these healthier options, all of which contain ingredients that could benefit your emotional state:

1. Dark chocolate
Cocoa is rich in flavanols, the same antioxidants that make berries and red wine heart-healthy. The sweet treat is also believed to trigger the brain to release the feel-good chemical dopamine. "It gives you a feeling similar to the high that runners get after a long distance run," says Kerry Dunnington, a caterer, culinary consultant, and author of Planet Kitchen Table: Recipes for a Sustainable Future in Food. Plus, cocoa is high in magnesium, a mineral that can be calming. Emotional Eating Tip: Stick with dark chocolate, which has less sugar and more antioxidants than milk, and consume only one or two small squares a day.

2. Spinach
Like other dark, leafy greens, spinach is high in folate and magnesium, both of which are linked to the production of the chemical serotonin. (Some cases of depression are thought to be linked to lower levels of serotonin or decreased serotonin activity in the brain.) Increased serotonin levels may help boost your mood and also help you ward of weight gain by controlling your appetite. Emotional Eating Tip: Enjoy spinach sautéed with garlic in a little olive oil; fold some cooked, chopped spinach into an omelet; or toss a salad made with fresh spinach, mushrooms, walnuts, and dried cranberries in balsamic vinaigrette.

3. Blueberries
Juicy blueberries pack a generous amount of antioxidants, and thanks to flavonoids, they may help enhance your memory, too: "There is good research on blueberries aiding in brain function," Somer says. But it's blueberries' folate content that lifts spirits. If you can't find fresh ones, frozen are a good alternative. Emotional Eating Tip: Enjoy them in smoothies, over yogurt, in whole wheat pancakes and muffins, or to eat out of hand.

4. Air-popped popcorn
This healthy snack boosts your levels of serotonin, making you feel happier, Somer explains. Filling and low in fat and calories, popcorn is a whole grain that contains fiber and antioxidants. Emotional Eating Tip: Be sure to enjoy your popcorn plain, without added butter or salty seasonings.

5. Almonds
These crunchy treats, which contain fiber, protein, and vitamins, are a good source of magnesium, an essential mineral. "Magnesium can affect the production of mood-influencing chemicals in the brain," Creamer says. Eating magnesium-rich foods has a calming effect on people, Dunnington adds. Emotional Eating Tip: Enjoy a handful of almonds as a snack, sprinkle them onto your cereal in the morning, or crush and use as a coating for seafood before sautéing.

6. Salmon
Fatty fish (like salmon or mackerel) are a good source of an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA, Somer explains. "DHA has a profound effect on depression," she says. "It's very helpful at treating depression and it improves mood even in people who are just kind of cranky." Emotional Eating Advice: Try glazing salmon with a little white miso paste and broiling it until just done, then sprinkling it with sesame seeds for extra crunch.

Theresa Creamer, MS, RD, CDN, reviewed this article.