The Perfect Food For Every Mood, According To An Eating Psychology Expert
Feeling grouchy, unfocused, anxious, or just not yourself? You're certainly not alone. And while you can probably already list a number of strategies to help boost your mood or at least nudge you in the right mental direction—from meditating to repeating a positive affirmation to going on a hike for a nice rush of endorphins—you may be overlooking one of the simplest yet most powerful mood-boosting tools yet: food.
Beyond just making you feel "better," there are certain nutrients and foods that can tweak your mood in very specific ways, whether you want to feel focused, soothed, energized, or something else—and often with pretty immediate effects. This isn't woo-woo stuff. It's backed by research. In fact, there's a whole field of science called nutritional psychiatry that studies the connection between what you eat and how it affects your mood, mindset, and mental health.
As a nutrition coach and eating psychology specialist, I love educating my clients on the food-mood connection. It's a wonderfully simple way to take charge of your moods and your day. Simply ask yourself one powerful question before you eat: How do I want to feel? Then prep and cook accordingly.
The best part: You can start eating this way right now. All you need to know is which foods will help emphasize which moods. Here are some ideas to get you started.
If you want to feel focused and clear.
Let's say you've got an important meeting and need to be extra sharp, or you're studying for an exam and want to super-charge your brain. To feel more focused, reach for leafy greens (like kale, collards, and spinach), which contain a variety of vitamins and antioxidants such as vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta-carotene, that have been shown to boost mental clarity and slow the rate of cognitive decline.
To boost the absorption of these potent nutrients, and reap even more mental rewards, reach for some healthy fats (hello, avocados, nut butter, salmon, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds!). Why fats? For starters, they help prevent erratic spikes and dips in blood sugar, which can keep energy levels stable and promote focus. Plus, about 60 percent of your brain is made up of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds, and algae, which is critical for supporting brain function and mood.
Sprinkle some herbs and spices into your meal, too. Garlic, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, thyme, and rosemary have all been shown to improve memory and help prevent cognitive decline.
Take it up a notch: For maximum benefits, put away all of your digital devices and practice mindful eating, savoring each delicious bite without any distractions. Your meal will be even more emotionally satisfying; and as an added bonus, you're sneaking in some meditation time, training your brain to be less scattered and more connected on the present moment.
If you want to feel calm and soothed.
After a hectic day, sometimes you just need to come home and relax. So, when you're craving that big-blankets, snuggly-socks, no-stress feeling, start by preparing a nostalgic meal. When something reminds you of a happy, sweet time in your life, it brings instant warmth and comfort.
Maybe as a kid, you loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Make yourself a "grown-up" version with sprouted grain bread, almond butter, and chia seed jam. Or maybe you have fun memories of family movie nights on the couch. Treat yourself to a bowl of plain popcorn topped with nutritional yeast, rosemary, olive oil, and flecks of sea salt—instead of artificial butter topping. Your elevated versions of these nostalgia-inducing dishes will help bring about that relaxed feeling while swapping out empty carbs and calories for loads of beneficial nutrients.
Take it up a notch: Craving even more calm? Sip on a warm, soothing beverage infused with chamomile, lemon balm, holy basil, or lavender (or my favorite golden spice, turmeric, in the form of a golden milk latte), which all have anxiety-reducing properties. And remember to slow down and take a few deep breaths—the ultimate stress-buster.
If you want to feel energized and powerful.
Gear up for a tough workout or hit your long to-do list head-on by fueling your body with the right combination of uplifting foods. One of the best ways to stay energized all day long is to ingest a healthy mix of macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) each time you eat—and, unless you've found that something like intermittent fasting specifically works for you, don't wait too long in between meals. When you're hungry, your blood sugar drops, and it can be hard to stay upbeat for anything.
Consider starting your day with a "macro-balanced" breakfast. Smoothies that include plant protein, fruit, avocado, or nut butter will keep you feeling alert (and satisfied) longer than an all-fruit version or a green juice, and overnight oats or chia pudding loaded with nuts, seeds, and berries make for satisfying morning meals that come together while you're sleeping.
And instead of reaching for that second cup of coffee, try matcha tea. Matcha contains L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes alpha-wave brain production (similar to what you'd experience with meditation), which results in a natural energy boost without the crash of coffee.
Take it up a notch: To feel even more strong and powerful, check in with your thoughts throughout the day. As you eat, remind yourself, "I am fueling myself with amazing food. I feel strong. I'm prioritizing myself." The words you say to yourself directly affect your mood—so talk to yourself like a friend, not a bully.
If you want to feel confident and radiant.
Let's be honest: Who doesn't want to glow from the inside out? To start, reach for foods with plenty of vitamin C, which is amazing for your brain, immune system, and even your skin. Fruits and vegetables like berries, oranges, lemons, limes, and bell peppers are packed with vitamin C, which stimulates collagen production in your body and keeps your skin firm and youthful. Higher vitamin C intake has also been associated with improved mood and lower anxiety levels, both of which can go a long way in promoting feelings of confidence. Plus, all of those bright colors on your plate might even be enough to give you a little spark of optimism in the midst of a gloomy day.
Once you've "eaten the rainbow," don't forget to hydrate. Load up on foods that have a naturally high water content (like cucumber, celery, and watermelon) and sip water or herbal tea throughout the day to keep yourself fully hydrated. Even mild dehydration can mess with your mood, making it harder to think clearly and making ordinary tasks feel disproportionately difficult.
Take it up a notch: To truly radiate confidence, you have to start from the inside—strategies like naming the things you like about yourself and writing them down or practicing daily affirmations that help you feel more comfortable in your own skin can go a long way in positively influencing the type of attitude and energy you send out into the world. Not sure where to start? Try one of these 20 mantras to feel more confident.
So, how do you want to feel right now? Whatever your answer may be, let that inspire your next meal.