6 Things Dietitians Eat When They Want to Boost Their Mood
You probably already know that what you eat and drink can influence your mental wellness. From daily stressors to anxiety, depression, ADHD and chronic stress, the nutrients you put into your body have the potential to help, or hinder, how you feel and think.
With this in mind we asked a handful of dietitians (aka experts in the connection between diet, nutrition and health) what they rely on for a mood boost. Here are the top mood-boosting foods, according to dietitians.
6 Foods Dietitians Eat to Boost Their Own Mood
"First, they're so quick to make, so it's an easy lift with nearly instant gratification. Plus, I know I'm getting vitamin D, which is hard to get enough of from food. There is a well-established link between vitamin D status and depression," says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Smoothies & Juices. Research shows that people with depression tend to have low vitamin D levels, and some findings (though the science is mixed) suggest that supplementing with vitamin D could help with depression. "Eggs also just look sunny on my plate, and we can't forget that people eat with their eyes," Largeman-Roth adds. Try this colorful Egg Tartine recipe on mornings when you need a little boost.
2. Citrus Fruit
"Citrus fruit is one of the raw fruits and veggies linked to a higher positive mood and life satisfaction. Plus, citrus is rich in vitamin C, and research suggests that getting enough vitamin C may decrease stress-related issues like depression and anxiety. Even just the smell and bright colors of citrus fruit can make me feel happier and energized," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of The Superfood Swap.
Blatner likes to lean into mocktail happy hour for a pick-me-up. "When I'm in a funk, nothing beats the good vibe I catch from slowing down to enjoy a citrus mocktail, even for just a few minutes. I squeeze citrus in a fancy glass, with some cayenne, ginger or mint, and top it off with sparkling water." Try our Basil Lemonade the next time you're craving a bright and zesty mocktail.
Sarah Pflugradt, M.S., RDN, CSCS, says, "OK, this seems like a no-brainer, but I love chocolate and it makes me happy. It doesn't take a lot, just a bite or two, and I instantly feel better. Research suggests that chocolate may stimulate the release of endorphins, so maybe that's why it makes me happy—because it's supposed to! Chocolate also makes me thirsty—I know it's a little strange—so I always drink a full glass of water with it, so I get a hydration kick as well."
While you could certainly break yourself off a piece of chocolate for instant happy vibes, we also love these Peanut Butter Swirl Chocolate Brownies for a decadent treat.
"When someone suggested that I try swapping my nightly glass of wine for a glass of kombucha, I never dreamed I might actually begin to want kombucha over wine. I've found my 5 o'clock glass of kombucha (over ice and in a fun glass) seems to calm my mind, and I look forward to it. This immediate mood boost may be more of a placebo effect, but regular intake of probiotic-rich food and drink is one of the best ways to boost gut health long-term," says Carolyn Williams, Ph.D., RD, author of Meals That Heal: 100 Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less and co-host of the Happy Eating Podcast.
"This is important because research suggests that the gut-brain connection is stronger and more influential on brain health than we ever imagined! Approximately 80 to 90% of the serotonin in the body is made in the gut, and disruptions to the gut microbiome (caused by food, stress, medications and lifestyle) can impact serotonin production, as well as production of other compounds the brain needs," Williams adds.
While you can certainly take a page from Williams' book and enjoy kombucha as-is, you can also use it to make a tasty cocktail. We're partial to this tasty Pineapple Kombucha Mai Tai that strikes the perfect balance between fizzy, fruity, nutty and sweet.
Chris Mohr, Ph.D., RD, of Mohr Results says, "Sure, there's science on foods for mental health, but eating for joy is a big benefit to my mental health. Pizza is a favorite food. For me it's the entire process—making the dough, considering the toppings and sharing it with my crew and friends all around our outdoor pizza oven. Eating and cooking for friends brings me joy regardless of the foods we're eating!"
"Beans and other legumes like peas, lentils and even peanuts provide numerous nutrients to help lift your spirits and mental well-being, including protein and fiber to stabilize blood sugar levels, iron and B vitamins for energy, and magnesium to help reduce anxiety," says Patricia Bannan, M.S., RDN, author of From Burnout to Balance.
"In a 2019 study published in BMC Psychology, researchers in Spain found that people without symptoms of depression were more likely to eat beans than their counterparts with symptoms of depression. While anxiety and depression are complex issues, eating foods with feel-good nutrients can help boost your mood."
Want an instant dose of comfort and a potential mood boost? Try this Slow-Cooker Pinto Bean Stew with Jalapeño-Corn Dumplings.