Did you find yourself dreading the holidays? Do you fight off depression during the winter months? Winters can be dark, cold, grey, dreary – and stressful. The good news is that by choosing the right foods, you can eat your way into a better mood.

“Mood foods” increase your levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter found naturally in the brain, bowels, and blood platelets. Serotonin, among other things, contributes to feelings of happiness, relaxation, and general well-being. People who do not produce or utilize serotonin will likely feel depressed. It may surprise you to learn that your gut makes more serotonin than your brain, so what you eat and how you absorb it matters.

Each of the foods in the list below contain different chemicals and nutrients that impact your body in a variety of ways. Try them all in moderation and see how quickly you notice a change in the way you feel. I suggest consuming one to two servings a day, eat them between meals as a snack so you receive the full serotonin-enhancing benefits.

Avocados: Full of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are the basic building blocks for your brain, cell membranes, and your nervous system. Naturally boost your mood by supporting specific cells in your brain associated with cognition and mood.

Oily and Fatty Fish (salmon, sardines, trout): Also full of Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s are essential for boosting mood but they are not produced in the body so you must eat or supplement them daily. Omega 3s directly impact serotonin and dopamine levels in your body and brain.

Dark Chocolate or Raw Cacao: Contains serotonin and phenylethylamine (PEA). Elevates mood, focus, and a giddy (falling in love) kind of feeling. Boosts blood flow to your heart and can be relaxing. Has aphrodisiac qualities.

Bananas: Contain tryptophan – an amino acid that is essential for the making of serotonin in your body – and B6, which then converts the tryptophan into serotonin, lifting your mood. Eat with almond butter to stop the natural sugars from bombarding your system, causing an energy crash and mood swing later.

Asparagus: Is also high in tryptophan. Contains folate, which regulates serotonin levels.

Brazil nuts: Contain selenium which helps maintain a healthy mood. Selenium is necessary for antioxidant defense and tissue protection, and there are many studies linking low selenium to higher rates of depression. Free radical damage and oxidative stress in the nervous system and brain haves been shown to cause depression. Only eat a small handful a day.

Lentils, kidney beans, and chickpeas: Have a nice balance of complex carbohydrates and protein which can help boost serotonin levels. Lentils are also high in folate. One study showed folate deficiency was associated with low levels of the serotonin metabolite 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).*

Almonds: Contain an important neural transmitter called tyrosine, which is necessary for the production of various brain chemicals (dopamine and noradrenaline) that influence your mood. Tyrosine is also necessary for healthy thyroid gland function; an unhealthy thyroid can send you into depression. Only eat a small handful a day.

It may not be enough to eat foods that lift your mood if you’re still consuming foods that bring you down throughout the day.

Here is a List of Foods to Avoid

Coffee: Caffeine causes major mood swings. It also taxes your adrenal glands, leading to fatigue and bad moods. If you’re weaning off coffee, I suggest starting with ½ caffeinated and ½ decaf and slowly tapering. Green tea can help you avoid the dreaded caffeine withdrawal headache.

Potato chips: Contain bad oils which lower brain activity and cause a negative mood.

Processed lunch meats: Contain food additives like nitrates and MSG which cause mood swings. Food color, preservatives, and food glues are also found in them, which cause depressed mood, headaches, and water retention.

Sugary drinks and foods (soda, energy drinks, donuts, cookies, cakes): These will cause a spike—and then crash—in blood sugar, and an accompanying mood swing.

Bread, bagels, crackers: Full of fast burning carbohydrates which cause another spike and crash in your blood sugar. They also contain gluten, known to impair digestion and cause inflammation of both the gut and the brain.

Fake sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, nutra-sweet, Splenda): Alter your brain chemistry for the worse. They contain chemicals that damage your DNA. These sweeteners decrease serotonin in your brain and body. They also act as an excitotoxin in your body, causing spasmodic firing of neurons. They’ve also been proven to negatively impact blood sugar and insulin levels; they are NOT safe for people with diabetes or blood sugar issues.

Make your mood a priority this winter!

Blessings of Vibrant Health,

Kristin Grayce McGary
Health and Lifestyle Alchemist

* Botez MI, Young SN. Effects of anticonvulsant treatment and low levels of folate and thiamine on amine metabolites in cerebrospinal fluid. Brain 1991;114:333-48. [PubMed ]
* Bottiglieri T, Hyland K, Laundy M, et al. Folate deficiency, biopterin and monoamine metabolism in depression. Psychol Med 1992;22:871-6. [PubMed]
* Bottiglieri T, Laundy M, Crellin R, et al. Homocysteine, folate, methylation, and monoamine metabolism in depression. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2000;69:228-32. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
* Surtees R, Heales S, Bowron A. Association of cerebrospinal fluid deficiency of 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, but not S-adenosylmethionine, with reduced concentrations of the acid metabolites of 5-hydroxytryptamine and dopamine. Clin Sci 1994;86:697-702. [PubMed]
* Botez MI, Young SN, Bachevalier J, et al. Effect of folic acid and vitamin B12 deficiencies on 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid in human cerebrospinal fluid. Ann Neurol 1982;12:479-84. [PubMed]