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This Is A Neuroscientist's Go-To Salad For A Positive Mood (Really!)

Jamie Schneider
mbg Beauty & Wellness Editor
By Jamie Schneider
mbg Beauty & Wellness Editor
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and wellness. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Image by Nadine Primeau / Unsplash
March 1, 2022
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We know what you're thinking: How can a salad, of all things, lead to increased happiness? A few wilted greens drowning in dressing hardly sparks joy. However, according to clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist Daniel Amen, M.D., author of You, Happier: The 7 Neuroscience Secrets of Feeling Good Based on Your Brain Type, the key to becoming a happier person is to focus on brain health basics; your brain is an organ, you see, so fueling it with healthy staples can not only support cognition over time but also lift your spirits long term. 

Plus, this is by no means a boring, sad salad. On the mindbodygreen podcast, Amen touts a dense, colorful bowl of veggies specifically chosen for their mood-enhancing benefits. Here, we break down his daily recipe. 

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A neuroscientist's go-to salad for a positive mood. 

Every great salad starts with a solid base, and for brain health, we highly recommend filling your bowl with dark, leafy greens (like spinach, kale, arugula, or any of the greens listed here). Each of these is rich in lutein and beta-carotene, which come with some brain-supporting benefits. In fact, one study found that out of 960 participants, those who ate at least one serving of leafy green vegetables per day had brains that were operating 11 years younger than they actually were, compared to those who rarely ate those greens. The researchers propose it's the high content of antioxidants (like lutein, beta-carotene, and alpha-tocopherol [aka, vitamin E]) that makes these greens so brain-healthy. 

As for the toppings: According to Amen, the more colorful your salad the better. "For lunch, I had a big salad with red and orange bell peppers, cucumbers, and olives," he says. Each of these comes with its fair share of benefits (red bell peppers, for example, contain antioxidants like beta-carotene, lycopene, and lots of vitamin C), but feel free to toss on any vegetables you have on hand. Chances are, they'll contain brain-healthy vitamins and minerals as well. 

Finally, Amen suggests including a source of omega-3s to your bowl of greens: "I'm a big fan of healthy, sustainable fish high in omega-3 fatty acids," he says, as well as fatty-acid-rich olive oil, nuts, and seeds. "My favorite nut is a walnut because it looks like a brain and is high in omega-3 fatty acids," he explains. "And my favorite seeds are pumpkin seeds because they've been found to increase dopamine availability in the brain," he adds, thanks to an amino acid called tyrosine. 

That said, add a serving of wild-caught salmon to your brain-healthy salad or sprinkle some chopped walnuts or pumpkin seeds for some added crunch, then top it all off with a drizzle of olive oil. "Putting it on your salads can be just so healing and helpful," he notes. 

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The takeaway. 

Believe it or not, the right foods can lighten your mood long term. Try Amen's recipe brimming with brain-healthy antioxidants and healthy fats, and you can quite literally fuel your brain with positivity. 

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Jamie Schneider
Jamie Schneider
mbg Beauty & Wellness Editor

Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.