Good Mood Food – The Pillars of a Good Mental Health Diet

Last Updated on March 7, 2024 by Lindsay Delk, RDN

Good Mood Food isn’t just a catchy phrase; it’s a reminder that your food choice can be a powerful way to boost your mood. There is a profound connection between what you eat and how you feel. What you eat does more than satisfy your hunger — it’s a foundation of your mental health. Good food, good mood!

If you want to explore the connection between your plate and your mood, you’re in the right place. Let’s explore the pillars of a good mental health diet.

This post was written by Lindsay Delk, RDN. It is for informational purposes and is not intended to replace medical advice or instructions given by your healthcare provider. 

"Good Food Good Mood" in white words next to various healthy foods

Pillars of a Good Mental Health Diet (Good Mood Food)

1) Follow a Mediterranean diet pattern that focuses on anti-inflammatory foods

The Mediterranean diet pattern is a healthy diet pattern for good physical health and mental health.

A Mediterranean diet pattern means eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats (especially fish), and healthy fats, such as those in olive oil, nuts, and seeds.

This diet pattern is full of anti-inflammatory foods, such as colorful fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, and olive oil. You can get my free anti-inflammatory foods printable here.

Anti-inflammatory foods are rich in antioxidants and polyphenols that protect your cells from the damage of oxidative stress. They reduce chronic inflammation in your body, which can contribute to mood disorders and a feeling of mental fog.

The Mediterranean diet pyramid as an example of a good mood food dietary pattern

2) Support the gut-brain connection with probiotics

Your gut health and mental health are strongly linked. In fact, the gut microbiome (all the microorganisms living in your gut) is sometimes called the “second brain.”

Having a variety of good bacteria (called probiotics) in your gut has a beneficial effect on your mental health. Fermented foods are rich in these probiotics. Research suggests that including probiotic fermented foods (psychobiotic food) in your diet can ease depression and anxiety.

Common fermented foods include:

Prebiotics are dietary fibers that serve as food for the probiotics. Eating prebiotic foods, such as whole grains, bananas, onions, garlic, and asparagus, help the probiotics thrive and support your mental health.

An infographic illustrating the gut-brain axis under healthy and stressed situations

3) Eat a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber at meals and snacks to stabilize blood sugar

Try to combine these nutrients together when you are building a meal or snack. By combining them, they work together to provide a steady supply of energy into your bloodstream.

For example, including an egg or a glass of milk (which provide protein and fat) with your oatmeal and berries (carbohydrates) will provide sustained energy. Or adding a little peanut butter (protein and fat) to your apple (carb) will provide a slower supply of fuel than the apple alone.

Combining these nutrients prevents spikes and dips in your blood sugar that can lead to fluctuations in mood and energy. This steady supply can carry you through the day without the crash of mid-morning fatigue or the late afternoon fog. It’s about giving your body a sustained source of fuel. You can get my free “Depression Snacks” printable here.

"Eat Good Feel Good" in white letters on a background of broccoli, corn, and tomatoes

4) Focus on the nutrients that have major roles in good mental health

Certain nutrients are champions when it comes to bolstering mental well-being. Some of these nutrients are antioxidants, and some help to reduce inflammation. Others are needed for the production or regulation of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. Make a special effort to eat foods high in these nutrients for optimal mental health.

Get my free graphic e-book of top nutrients and foods below to print and post in your kitchen.

  • Magnesiumnuts, edamame beans, potatoes with skin, black beans, spinach, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds
  • Vitamin D – vitamin D-fortified milk, egg yolks, mushrooms, sardines, tuna, salmon
  • Omega-3 fats – salmon, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, sardines, tuna
  • Vitamin B12 – salmon, milk, beef liver, lean ground beef, clams, tuna
  • Folate – broccoli, avocados, Brussels sprouts, black-eyed peas, asparagus, spinach
  • Zinc – oysters, pumpkin seeds, lean pork, lean chicken, crab, lean beef
  • Fiber – whole grains, peas, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, beans, popcorn
  • Iron – iron-fortified whole grain cereal, oysters, white beans, lean beef, beef liver, lentils, spinach
  • Selenium – Brazil nuts, tuna, halibut, sardines, shrimp, brown rice
  • Choline – beef liver, eggs, lean beef, lean chicken, potatoes with skin
  • Vitamin C – bell pepper, oranges, orange juice, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts

5) Avoid ultra-processed foods, added sugar, and alcohol

Avoiding ultra-processed foods, added sugar, and alcohol can help improve your mental health.

  • Many ultra-processed foods contain a lot of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, which can trigger inflammation.
  • Added sugar can also cause inflammation. And it can lead to rapid spikes and crashes in your blood sugar levels, which may cause mood swings and energy dips.
  • Avoiding alcohol has been linked with better mental well-being. Drinking alcohol can lead to relationship problems and irregular sleep patterns, which undermine mental health.
Adults and children sharing a cook out meal

6) Share meals with family and friends

Eating is more than just a way to curb hunger. It can be a nurturing experience for our mental and emotional well-being. The act of gathering around the table with others allows us to bond, share our day, and support each other.

Social eating can increase feelings of happiness and reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Meal times nourish our bodies with healthy foods and feed our souls with laughter, conversation, and connection, which are equally essential for mental health.

Bottom Line

The saying “you are what you eat” is truer than you realize. Research continues to show a strong link between the foods you eat and your emotional well-being. Eating good mood food is a significant tool in your mental wellness toolbox that can lead to a happier, healthier mind.

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