May 25, 2021

Food and mood

What you eat affects how you feel, both physically and emotionally. Here are some recipes to help boost your energy and focus, manage stress, and lift your spirits.

Our emotions are closely linked with the foods we put into our bodies. So, it’s easy to see why we might feel sluggish and unfocused, or invigorated and alert, depending on what we eat — or don’t eat.

“While food choices aren’t a substitute for medical treatment,” said Jennifer Lombardi, a Kaiser Permanente marriage and family therapist in Northern California, “they can have a powerful positive effect on both your physical and mental health.”

Making good food choices can improve how you feel, so it’s helpful to have some mood-boosting recipes on hand that can give you a lift during the day.

Get energized

Your mother was right: Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.

“Having protein in the morning as part of a well-balanced breakfast helps kick-start your dopamine, which is a brain chemical related to increased energy, concentration, and perseverance,” said Jennifer Yañez, a registered dietitian at Kaiser Permanente in Colorado.

Along with protein, a good breakfast includes whole-grain carbohydrates, fruits or vegetables, and some healthy fat from plant sources like nuts and seeds. After a long night’s sleep, this combination can give your body the energy it needs to get moving and thinking.

Try these balanced breakfast recipes for increased energy:

Stay focused

To maintain your mental focus throughout the day, it’s important not to run out of fuel. Eat 3 well-balanced meals, and don’t be afraid of good dietary fats, such as the kind found in salmon, sardines, and tuna. Healthy fats are also found in flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and high-quality eggs (ideally organic and from free-range or pasture-raised hens).

“These foods contain omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain function and can improve attention and contribute to a positive mood,” Yañez explained.

Cook up these meals to help you focus:

Avoid energy spikes and crashes

Many people reach for comfort foods in stressful times. Starchy or sweet food often feels emotionally satisfying — in the short term.

But consuming high-sugar or carbohydrate-heavy foods like bagels, doughnuts, or white bread, in excess, causes your blood sugar to spike, followed by an unpleasant crash.

Foods that are high in protein help keep your blood sugar stable because they digest more slowly. That means your energy and emotions will be more stable as well. Great sources of protein include lentils, beans, tofu, eggs, milk, fish, and meat, as well as certain vegetables, including broccoli, spinach, and peas (and many more).

“Labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ backfires in the long run, so it’s important to eat things that you actually want to eat,” said Lombardi. “Allow yourself to enjoy a combination of foods for fun and foods for energy.”

Keep an even keel with these protein-packed meals:

Improve your mood

Many foods have mood-enhancing compounds that can give you a mental boost. Try dark chocolate (with at least 70% cocoa), fresh fruits and berries, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils — even coffee (as long as you don’t overdo it).

Fermented foods and drinks, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha benefit the gut microbiome — the vast collection of microorganisms that live in your intestines. Recent studies show a strong connection between a person’s gut microbiome and brain health and emotional wellness.

Boost your mood with these tasty foods: