Eat Yourself Happy With These Mood Boosting Foods

happy foods

Feeling blue and out of sorts? You might be feeling this way because of the foods you’re eating. Our diet plays a fundamental role in our emotional health and eating the wrong types of foods can impact our mood and emotional wellbeing.


As tempting as it may be to reach for sugary high fat treats when you’re feeling low, these foods will only end up making you feel worse. Eating a wholesome diet rich in a variety of nutritious natural foods will deliver important brain-nourishing nutrients that are needed to regulate our brain chemistry to support mood, brain function and emotional health.


Specific vitamins, minerals and amino acids are required for the production of our ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters namely serotonin, dopamine and GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric acid). These neurotransmitters help enhance our mood and promote optimal brain function. They also assist with sleep and reducing anxiety levels. Deficiencies in these neurotransmitters are associated with the development of depression. (1, 2)


Here are 8 top mood-boosting foods you should be eating as part of a well-balanced diet to best support your emotional wellbeing.




Raw cacao is an ancient superfood known for its a mood-boosting ability. Cacao contains phenylethylamine, the same chemical that’s created in the brain when you’re in love. It has a natural anti-depressant effect and can help lift your mood and increase focus and alertness. Cacao also contains theobromine a naturally occurring phytochemical (also found in tea) that boosts endorphins, your brains pleasure chemicals. These are the same chemicals that are released when you exercise. Endorphins help reduce anxiety and give you a sense of wellbeing. Cacao will also provide you with tryptophan, an amino acid which the brain needs to make serotonin. The high levels of flavonoids present in raw cacao have been found to boost blood flow to the brain and reduce inflammation, which can help promote a better mood. (3)


You will find fair trade Peruvian raw cacao in our healthy hot chocolate Bodhi Organic Hot ChocolaTEA. Add raw cacao or Hot ChocolaTEA to baked goods, raw desserts, granola, smoothies or bliss balls.




Legumes really pack a punch when it comes to mood-boosting nutrients. Lentils, chickpeas, green beans, kidney beans and other legumes are excellent vegetarian sources of iron. This important mineral plays a role in our emotional health as it’s needed for dopamine and serotonin production. Deficiencies in iron can strongly impact mood and are associated with apathy and the development of depression and anxiety. Iron deficiency is one of the most prevalent nutrient deficiencies worldwide. Females in particular teenagers and pregnant women, are most prone to low iron levels.


Iron is also required for healthy GABA levels. Improving GABA levels will help promote relaxation to relieve anxiety and improve mood and sleep. Legumes also supply a good dose of B vitamins which are needed to maintain good mental and emotional health. A good supply of B vitamins through the diet is important for preventing depression as they’re required for the synthesis of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. B vitamins also support the body during times of stress and are needed to produce energy. Legumes are also packed with other mood-boosting nutrients like magnesium and zinc. The consumption of foods rich in these nutrients is important for supporting mental health. Research shows an association between zinc and magnesium deficiency and the development of depression. (4) Magnesium is necessary for healthy nervous system function and can reduce the release of stress hormones, which has a protective effect on mood.


Legumes are so versatile. Try making up a batch of hummus to have on hand for a healthy snack with some veggie sticks and wholegrain crackers. Lentil dahls with lots of diced vegetables is tasty served with quinoa, brown or cauliflower rice, or kidney bean mix with shredded lettuce, guacamole, corn, diced tomatoes and salsa.




Eggs are a great source of the amino acid tryptophan. This essential amino acid can’t be produced in the body so it must be supplied through the diet. Tryptophan is used by the body to produce serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for making us feel happy and content. Tryptophan is also needed to produce melatonin needed for helping us get a good night sleep. People will low serotonin levels are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and insomnia.


Egg yolks are one of the richest sources of choline which is an important nutrient related to the B vitamin family.  Choline serves many functions in the body including being involved in the production acetylcholine, another important neurotransmitter required for mood and healthy brain and nervous system function. (5) Egg whites can also have a positive effect on our mood by providing high levels of methionine. This amino acid is needed by the body to make S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe). SAMe is used in the body to make serotonin and dopamine.


Always look for free-range certified organic eggs when you can. Try a mood-boosting breakfast of poached or scrambled eggs with baby spinach and homemade baked beans. Frittatas with baby spinach and diced vegetables is a nutritious lunch or dinner with a side salad.




Salmon is one the richest food sources of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These healthy fats are extremely important for optimal brain function, memory and mood. Eating a diet containing these omega-3’s will help lower your risk of depression and can improve mood. (6) Current research has shown that people suffering from depression commonly have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids. (7)


Including wild salmon with meals a few times a week is a great way to get a good dose of these beneficial fats. Salmon is also a great choice as it is low in mercury and other heavy metals. Choose wild, sustainably sourced salmon when you can. Unfortunately a large proportion of the salmon on the market today is farmed, which not only contains less of these beneficial omega-3 fats, but they also contain toxins such as dioxins, PCBs, pesticides, antibiotics and dyes like canthaxanthin. These chemicals are fed to the salmon to make them fatter, disease free, and to give a healthy pink colour.


Salmon is also a good source of vitamin B12. This essential nutrient is naturally found in animal foods and cannot be produced in the body so must be supplied through the diet. B12 helps regulate our mood as it’s also required for serotonin and dopamine production. Vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with mood and sleep disorders, depression and a decline in memory and brain function. (8)


By including salmon in your diet you will also be improving your tyrosine intake. This important amino acid is a natural dopamine booster. Tyrosine is converted to dopamine in the body. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for creating a positive mood and enjoyment of life. People with low dopamine levels feel a loss of pleasure for things they once enjoyed like exercising, socialising with friends, or sex. They have poor concentration and focus, and little or no motivation. A study published in JAMA psychiatry reported that people with clinical depression also have significantly lower brain levels of dopamine. (9)


Astaxanthin is a type of super antioxidant that is found naturally in wild salmon, krill and some algae. It’s responsible for giving salmon its characteristic reddish-pink colour. Astaxanthin has an advantage of being able to cross the blood brain barrier where it can help protect the brain from oxidative damage and support cognitive health and emotional wellbeing.  Research has suggested that there is a link between increased oxidative stress, the brain and mental and emotional health. (10)


Oven baked or pan-fried salmon is delicious served with roasted vegetables and steamed greens, or tossed through a salad with plenty of dark green leaves and a good spoonful of fermented vegetables.




Including fermented vegetables like sauerkraut in the diet is an excellent way to promote a healthy mood by improving gut health. The health of our digestive system is closely related to our emotional wellbeing. Our gut plays a key role in guarding against the development of anxiety and depression-related disorders. A large percentage of our brain chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine and GABA are produced in the gut. In fact, around ninety percent of our serotonin is produced in the gut. Dysbiosis (altered gut microbiome) and gut inflammation have been linked to altered levels of serotonin levels and several mental illnesses including anxiety and depression. Incorporating probiotic rich foods like fermented vegetables in the diet will help restore normal gut microbiome to improve mood and promote emotional health. Some other probiotic rich foods that can be added to the diet include yoghurt, kefir, miso, kimchi, kombucha, and kvass. Add a good spoonful of fermented vegetables to your next salad, curry, lentil dahl, or earth bowl.




Researchers have discovered that certain compounds found in green tea can lift the mood, improve focus and help fend off depression. Green teas beneficial effects on mood and cognition are thought to be due to its combination of the amino acid L-theanine and caffeine.  L-theanine has a calming effect on the nervous system, which seems to mitigate the negative effects of caffeine like feeling jittery or having difficulty sleeping, while enhancing it’s positive effects of feeling more alert and focused.


Scientists have discovered that L-theanine also has an antidepressant and anti-anxiety effect. (11) L-theanine can help improve mood by increasing brain dopamine, GABA and serotonin levels. (12) GABA is an amino acid which acts as a neurotransmitter that reduces the activity of nerve cells throughout the body. It has a positive effect on mood by making you feel more relaxed, reducing stress levels, and helping you sleep. People with depression have lower brain GABA levels.


Always buy a good quality loose leaf certified organic green tea that’s free from pesticide residue. To reap the health benefits green tea has to offer aim to have 3 or more cups daily. Green tea is also delicious iced with a squeeze of lemon and fresh mint, or a little apple juice and lime. Try our award-winning green tea, Bodhi Organic ViridiTEA.




Bananas are one of the best sources of vitamin B6. This important B vitamin plays a role in mood regulation and is necessary for a healthy functioning nervous system . Consuming foods rich in B6 can help reduce depression and enhance mood as they’re necessary for making serotonin, dopamine and GABA. Bananas also contain good levels of the amino acid tryptophan, which is also required for serotonin production.


Bananas are one of the few fruits that contain a type of fibre called resistant starch. This type of fibre helps support and maintain the health of our colon by promoting healthy levels of gut microbiome. Greener bananas contain more resistant starch and are therefore better for your gut and emotional health.


Keep over-ripe bananas to make banana bread, or put them peeled in the freezer to add to smoothies or to make healthy ice cream. Banana is delicious blended through coconut chia pudding, added to oat porridge, raw desserts and healthy muffins.




Loading your plate with dark green leafy vegetables is a great way to help lift your mood. Dark green leafies like kale, Swiss chard, and spinach are high in folate (vitamin B9). Eating a diet rich in folate and (other B vitamins) is recommended to help support optimal neurotransmitter production and nervous system health. Folate works together with vitamin B3, B6 and tryptophan to produce our ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter, serotonin.


Folate also helps ward off depression by breaking down the amino acid homocysteine in the body and in turn making SAMe. High homocysteine and low SAMe levels are associated with a higher risk of depression. Researchers have recognised that depressive symptoms are often seen in people with folate and B12 deficiencies. (13) Dark leafy greens also contain good levels of iron and magnesium which both have a positive effect on serotonin and dopamine levels to boost mood.


You should be aiming to have a good handful of green leaves each day. Add them to salads, stir-fries, frittatas, sandwiches, healthy homemade burgers and pizza, pasta sauces, or to fresh juices and smoothies.


Written by Lisa Guy, naturopath and founder of Bodhi Organic Tea.

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