Mood-Boosting Ingredients to Add to Your Meals

Jordana Weiss

Have these weeks of quarantine and political unrest in the country left you feeling like the walls are closing in? Many people are struggling, and to keep their morale high, they're turning to their favorite indulgent dishes and snacks. Unfortunately, if you crave salty and sweet treats like candy, chips, and fast food, you may get a brief boost of energy, but ultimately these foods don’t do anything to improve your outlook or health long-term.

Instead of reaching for simple carbs and sugary sweets, try to incorporate some of these mood-boosting foods into your diet during this stressful time. Here are some of our favorites.

Fish

There are tons of varieties of fish available, depending on your location and your palate. Fortunately, most of them are rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, a compound that’s been found to help stabilize our mood. A recent study found that participants who ate more fish self-reported that their mental health improved after consumption.

There are so many different ways to prepare fish. If you’re not sold on the taste or texture, try a more mild white fish like haddock or cod. If you’re already a fan, try it in a new dish like Malabar fish biryani, or fish gassi simmered in coconut milk and tamarind paste.

Fruit That's Rich in Vitamin C

One of the primary benefits of vitamin C is its ability to help our body process critical nutrients like carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Without this vitamin, you could each as much healthy food as you want, but your body would remain starved for nutrients. In a 2013 study, hospital patients with normal levels of vitamin C were 51% less psychologically distressed than their fellow patients with sub-optimal levels of vitamin C in their blood.

To ensure you’re getting enough vitamin C, eat plenty of citrus as well as fruits like strawberries, mango, and papaya. Healthy veggies like broccoli and bright bell peppers also contain plenty of vitamin C.

Lentils and Legumes

In order to produce the neurotransmitters that help create feel-good hormones like serotonin, our bodies need lots of vitamin B6. This critical vitamin is integral for regulating our mood. If you’re vitamin B6-deficient, it can severely affect your mood and if left untreated, eventually lead to cognitive dysfunction, major mood disturbances, and depression.  

To keep our levels of vitamin B6 high, ensure you’re getting regular helpings of lentils and other legumes like peanuts, kidney beans, and chickpeas. As an added bonus, these foods are rich in fiber, which keeps our blood sugar stable, limiting unpredictable spikes and dips in our energy level.

Chocolate  

We know we won’t have to twist your arm to get you to eat more chocolate! Scientists have recently isolated a substance found in chocolate called anandamide (from the Sanskrit word “ananda,” which means peaceful bliss), which binds to our pleasure centers and produces feelings of excitement and elation. To ensure you’re not overdoing it, stick to a small amount of dark chocolate, which has less sugar than milk chocolate.