By Amy Inman-Felton RDN

Health and Wellness Contributing Editor

5 Minute Read



Foods to Change Your Moods!

As shorter chillier days approach, we may find ourselves feeling more anxious, tired and even a tad blue.  Like nature, our bodies adapt to seasonal changes.  As the exposure to sunlight decreases, more significant amounts of Melatonin are produced inducing sleepiness, physical activity often decreases, and Vitamin D levels can drop.

These changes combined with increased cravings for comfort foods can lead to weight gain with processed and high sugar foods exacerbating anxiousness and a gloomy mood.

For anyone already struggling with high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) the transition from summer to winter can be difficult.  Emerging research now shows specific dietary patterns and nutrients in foods, herbs, and spices can actually combat symptoms associated with depression and anxiety (1).

In fact, a recent meta-analysis demonstrated dietary patterns characterized by high intakes of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy with low intakes of processed and animal foods is associated with a decreased rate of depression (1).

What foods can improve your mood and overall well-being?  Bottom line, plant-based foods like those found in the Mediterranean diet (2,3).

Adding these foods, spices, and nutrients to your winter eating plan (even all year round) may actually boost a cheerier disposition and combat the winter blues leaving you with a renewed sense of energy and vitality in the year ahead.


Top foods to improve your mood

Go Nuts (and seeds).  Pumpkin seeds, almonds, sunflower seeds, and cashews top the list in nutrient-dense sources of magnesium, a vital micronutrient shown to reduce depression (4,5).   Just 1 ounce (2-Tablespoons) on average provides 20 to 25% Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of magnesium. Double bonus- pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds contain a high carbohydrate-to-tryptophan protein ratio that may also enhance brain levels of our happy neurotransmitter serotonin (6).


Focus on fish. Cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and halibut, are excellent sources of vitamin D and omega-3-fatty acids, key nutrients shown to be deficient in persons with depression (7,8,9,10).  Just 3-ounces, 2 to 3 times a week of salmon, mackerel, halibut or adding anchovies to salads can boost intake of these brain loving nutrients.



Eat the whole egg.  Eggs are an excellent source of choline an essential water-soluble vitamin found in the yolk of an egg.  Low levels of choline have shown to be deficient in anxiety disorders and depression (11).  Two hard-boiled eggs provide 250 to 300 mg of choline providing a significant source (58 % of RDI for women and 48% for men).  Eating whole eggs (not just egg whites) with omega-3-fatty acids enhances your brain-boosting meal.



Add an avocado.  This oval shaped fruit provides a powerhouse of nutrients good for brain and mood.  Avocados contain 58 mg magnesium per fruit (16% of daily needs) and are filled with healthy fats and B-vitamins including folic acid- another essential vitamin in brain and mood health.




Go greens and berries.  Persons who are depressed often have low levels of serotonin and dopamine as a result of overproduction of the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO).  Kale, arugula, spinach, berries, apples, grapes, and onions contain phytonutrients that naturally inhibit MAO and may naturally combat this enzyme similar to the drug class of MAO inhibitors (12).  Increasing serotonin and dopamine through this mechanism may be a reason for improving mood with a plant-based diet (12). Plant-based foods also provide excellent sources of antioxidants and folate targeting damaging free radicals associated with the development of psychiatric disorders including depression (13,14).


Spice It Up.  Spices like cloves, oregano, cinnamon, and nutmeg offer the same natural MAO enzyme inhibitory effect as plant-based foods.  Adding these spices to entrees and dishes not only enhances flavor but can elevate your mood (15).




Sip on Green Tea and Coffee.  Both green tea (13) and coffee (16) have shown benefits in boosting mood and improving symptoms of depression.  Consuming 4 cups (24 ounces) a day of green tea or moderate intakes of coffee (2 to 4 cups) has proven these benefits (17,18).  A word of caution, avoid adding high-intensity sweeteners (aspartame and saccharin) which have been associated with depression (19)



Health Disclaimer:

Always seek guidance from your Primary Care Physician or a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist if you have been diagnosed with a specific health-related condition, food allergy, or chronic disease requiring a special diet, or take prescribed medication for an existing medical condition.    


Amy E. Inman- Felton, RDN 

Amy comes with over 25 years of diverse clinical nutrition and professional medical writing experience.  As a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), Amy worked as a clinical specialist in gastroenterology, quality management and research, and health promotion. While working at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Amy led the evidence-based practice movement designing protocols and clinical nutrition practice guidelines for RDN professionals where she published in professional journals and co-authored two books.  Amy currently provides expert medical writing and content design for various projects developed by The Commission on Dietetic Registration and is nutrition content editor for Morrison Management Specialists Manual of Clinical Nutrition.  An avid lover of fitness and nature, Amy is passionate about nutrition, food, and functional wellness in optimizing health.  Amy frequently lectured at the Chicago Area Runners Association marathon training clinic while living in Chicago and most recently coached her college age son in his first marathon. Using her depth of medical research knowledge she is happiest helping women and those they care for live healthier lives.  Amy is excited to share her nutrition expertise with Elizabeth By The Sea and her followers!



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