Food plays a big part in how we feel. From the energy we have throughout the day to the intensity of the emotions we experience. Certain foods are good for your mental health; We’ll call it Mood Food.
Mood Food provides key vitamins and minerals that uplift and strengthen our mental fortitude. For some, it can replace medication for depression and anxiety. For others, it’s a helpful compliment.
One of the best parts about using food for your mental health is it’s something you don’t have to rely fully on your doctor for. I mean, definitely talk to them about your specific diet needs, but it’s not like medication. You don’t have to try something out and wait 3 months before you can try something else.
It’s something you have more flexibility and control over. And when we struggle, that kind of combination is what we need.
Mood Food vs Other Food
Certain foods increase our production of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. These are our mood foods. Some foods have little impact on how we feel, and others can (especially in excess) make us feel rough.
Mood food is as important for our mental health as it is for our physical health.
I’m always careful about discussing food. With eating disorders being such a devastating issue, I don’t want to unintentionally promote restrictive eating. That’s why, before we get into the foods that have the greatest impact on your mood, we gotta discuss the “fine print.”
Any food that you do not have a specific medical restriction against, can be part of your healthy diet. I’ve mentioned before that I have Celiac disease; that means that for ME, gluten cannot be part of a healthy diet.
But for other people, it can.
If you have diabetes, work with your doctor on including or not including certain foods. If you’re doctor hasn’t given you any such restrictions, and you are dying for a donut, have the dang donut.
Just don’t make the donut the only food you eat for the day. And maybe include some mood food, too. Capisce?
Human beings tend to obsess over things we “cannot have.” Unless you have to, don’t make food off limits or focus on what you are trying to cut back. Focus on adding these mood foods in. That usually balances the rest out.
The Best Foods for Your Mood
So which foods can help with improving your mental health? Well, quite a few, actually!
Whole Grain Mood Food: Why they Work.
Whole grains are an important part of nutrition for your mental health.
We get the majority of our energy from glucose, which comes from carbohydrates. Simple carbs like white bread or cake, cause sugar spikes that can worsten our mood if overdone.
But whole grains provide a stable energy source that improves our mood! Whole grains are carboydrates with a good amount of fiber.
Here are some whole grain foods to look for:
- Brown Rice
- Breads and Pastas made with Whole Grain Flour
Get whole grains in your diet is easy! If you like to eat sandhiches, swap your white bread for whole wheat bread, your pasta for whole grain noodles, and your white rice with brown rice or quinoa!
Lean Protein for emotional wellness: Why it Works
Protein is also an important factor in nutrition for your mental wellness.
Carbohydrates are the most abundant substance in your body, but protein is a close second. Protein breaks down into amino acids, some of which are the building blocks of Serotonin. You know, that feel good brain chemical.
Serotonin plays a role in depression, anxiety, addiction, ADHD, Autism, and others. Mood food can benefit all of these challenges, though it’s been studied more for depression and anxiety.
Here are some lean proteins to look for:
- fatty fish
- white meat chicken
- greek yogurt
- lean beef or pork
This, like complex carbs, is often a matter of swapping on thing out for another. Like turkey bacon over regular bacon. Leaner cuts of beef over fattier cuts.
One cool thing is some of these foods double as complex carbs–beans and lentils! These two are powerhouses of nutrition.
Omega 3 Mood Food: Why it Works
This fatty acid helps neurotransmitters work better but the western diet is frequently deficient. Omega 3 isn’t just a mood food; it also helps improve memory and concentration! It’s a busy little bee.
Here are some foods high in Omega 3 to look for:
- fatty fish like Salmon, yellow fish tuna, rainbow trout, and others
- chia seeds and pumpkin seeds
- peanut butter
- brussels sprouts
- anchovies, sardines, oysters
Fatty fish are some of the best known sources for Omega 3, but if you are a vegetarian like me, your options aren’t limited to oceanic creatures. That’s good news for all you fellow veggies!
Leafy Greens for your mental health: Why they Work
Most of us don’t get enough vegetables in our diet and it’s an area that could have a positive impact on how we feel. I used to hate anything green; then I became a vegetarian and had to change that up!
Leafy greens, in particular, are great mood food. They are full of essential vitamins and minerals, which improve how we feel.
For instance, Spinach is full of certain B vitamins which promote energy and better sleep. It’s also full of vitamins A, C, E, K and others.
If you hate vegetables, experiment with different styles of cooking them. My husband absolutely hates broccoli, but he’ll eat it in curry. I hated brussels sprouts until I tried them with a balsamic glaze.
If you experiment enough, you may find ways to include veggies in your diet that you actually enjoy. And that increases the likelihood that you’ll continue eating them
Here are some leafy greens to look for:
- Collard Greens
- Romaine Lettuce
- Swiss Chard
- Bok Choy (one of my favorites)
- Turnip Greens
If you looked at this list and had no idea what half of them were and hated the other half, the next section on drool worthy recipes, should help.
These are just 3 of the categories of food that benefit your mental health. The details are a lot more extensive but would really require a book to list them all!
Mood Food: Drool Worthy Recipes
Here are my favorite recipes for healthy eating and positive mental wellness! The vegetarian recipes are personally approved by me. The meat based foods, have been husband approved! Enjoy 🙂
Vegetarian Recipes for Mental Health
These are my personal favorites. I hope you enjoy!
Power Bowl: Oh She Glows
Angela Liddon at Oh She Glows is one of my favorite food bloggers. I’ve nevr tried anything of hers that I didn’t love. This particular recipe is probably my favorite.
I make it with lentils and substitute spelt berries for brown rice because that’s what I like. You can use any leafy green you prefer. She recommends spinach. Personally, I use kale in this recipe.
Made with a light lemon tahini sauce and other Mediterranean flavors. I was hesitant to try it the first time. I’m so glad I did.
Mujaddara: Cookie and Kate
Mujaddara is a middle eastern food with a nutritional punch! This recipe is very thorough and authentic, too.
This is another brown rice and lentil dish (but with yogurt!), combining the complex carbs and protein for an extra mood food boost. The parsley and cilantro combo is soooooo tasty and rich in vitamins, too. Plus, extra virgin olive oil is a quality source of fatty acids like Omega 3.
Roasted Mole Cauliflower & Chickpeas: Naturally Ella
Latin cauliflower, mole sauce, and chickpeas. Delicious! Even the picture makes me start drooling. One taste and you’ll be sold.
The health benefits here include omega 3 from the cauliflower, pepitas, and olive oil. The chickpeas are a good source of both lean protein and complex carbs. All around, a nutrient packed mood food here! And soooooo tasty.
Bibimbap: Lazy Cat Kitchen
Bibimbap is a Korean dish that’s also called a stone bowl. It is rice mixed with different veggies and a korean spiced sauce. My favorite part of Bibimbap is the pickled daikon radish. I DREAM about that deliciousness!
Compled carbs come from the brown rice; Omega 3 and lean protein from tofu and edamame. But the asian style sauce is killer! This is one of my all time favorite foods. It can be hard to make well but Ania does a fantastic job!
Veggie Burgers: Peas and Crayons
A good veggie burger can be hard to make but this one is it! Quinoa and black beans account for the complex carbs and protein. Put it on a whole wheat bun and top it with some avocado or guacamole and you’ve got another complex carb and added an Omega 3.
The flavor in these burgers is fantastic. It’s seriously worth drooling over!
Meaty, Husband-Approved Recipes
Here are some of the meals to which Mr. Lionheart gives his blessing as the omnivore in the house.
Thai Tuna Bowl: A Cookie Name Desire
Mr. Lionheart is all about some thai flavor and this power bowl is at the top of his favorite thai inspired dinners list! If you’re a veggie like me, just swat the tuna for some tofu and it’s amazing!
This little nutrition powerhouse dinner has the leafy green in the form of cabbage; Quinoa and Chickpeas make up the complex carbohydrate and protein, plus a little extra protein with that fatty fish. And of course, we get those Omega 3’s from the zucchini.
This drool worthy recipe doubles as like a supercharged mood food!
Creamy Lime & Basil Salmon Burgers: Hungry, Healthy, Happy
Lime and Basil are an underrated taste combination. So perfect together! And when you add in the lemon grass and ginger, the spice combination is to die for!
These nutritious burgers are good food for mental health. They have the salmon as the lean protein AND Omega 3, wholemeal bread crumbs for a complex carbohydrate, and greek yogurt as an extra protein.
Top with romaine lettuce and you’ve got your leafy green, too. It’s everything you could need on one whole wheat bun! Plus it’s super tasty, apparently ? I’m curious if you could swap out fish for tofu. I’ll definitely be trying that!
Tuna Poke Bowl: Beyond Mere Sustenance
Mr. Lionheart is a HUGE fan of poke bowls. And sushi. And poke bowls seem like a bowl of unrolled sushi to me. Of course, your ingredients can be cooked or raw–totally up to you!
The thing we love about this recipe is the flexibility of it. There are so many possible combinations that Tamara gives you in this one recipe that you could make it every night but still have a totally different meal.
And even though it’s in my list as a meaty recipe, it already comes with a way to make it veggie.
In terms of mood food, this one is a great one! Brown rice or Quinoa make up the complex carb; Chicken, tofu, or any of the fatty fish make up the protein. Omega 3 comes in the fatty fish and the edamame and cabbage takes care of the leafy green. It’s everything you could want or need!
Lime Chicken & Veggies: Sidewalk Shoes
Our family is pretty big on anything with lime in it. Seriously, I have no idea how to go through so much but you can see why this recipe makes the list!
The chicken is perfect for omnivores like Mr. Lionheart but you can also sub out the chicken for tofu and make an incredible veggie version. Seriously, just look at those veggies! My mouth is watering…
And it’s another great recipe giving you good food for your mental health! Chicken (or tofu for veggies like me) make up the protein. Corn is a complex carb and totally delicious in this recipe; and zucchini gives you that Omega 3 to round it out.
If you wanted to add a leafy green, some kale or spinach would be perfect! This is the perfect summer time recipe!
Sweet Potato Turkey Chili: The Spicy Apron
That’s all I’ve got to say about that. Well, maybe not ALL…
The combination of flavor here is killer, plus you make it in an instant pot. It’s perfect. If you wanted to make it veggie, you could sub turkey for tofu or lentils. Or even just more means. It’s great, regardless.
Turkey is a great lean protein; sweet potatoes and beans make up the complex carbs for this dish. I personally love to add avocado to my chili (veggie for me, of course) because it’s the perfect compliment plus avocado is an excellent source of Omega 3.
If you wanted to add in a leafy green, I say add a little spinach in there. Some people (like Mr. Lionheart) would disagree with me there, though. So you do you. Regardless, you can’t go wrong with this one!
Connect with Me!
Now you’ve got a good idea of the basic foods for your mood and some drool worthy recipes to get you started. Don’t forget that, on top of good and healthy food, exercise is also a really great natural strategy for your mental health.
It can be hard to find the will to do it, so make sure you check out the guide I’ve got for finding your workout motivation. I used to be a couch potato, now I’m not. This guide is all about how I changed that and how you can, too.
Now tell me, what are your FAVORITE recipes that double as good and healthy mood food? Leave the link in the comments!
What an awesome collection of recipes and such valuable insight on eating for mental health! Thank for including my Tuna Poke Bowl. Sharing!
Tia Michelle says
So glad you like it! And thanks for such a wonderful recipe. My hubby especially thanks you 😛 !