How to Boost Your Mood with Food

Two Michigan Medicine dieticians dish five food and beverage tips to get you through the winter blues.

9:44 AM

Author | Jordyn Imhoff


From financial worries and overwhelming schedules to spending the holidays without certain loved ones, the winter season may not always feel like a joyous occasion and could spark emotional eating for some.

But your diet can play a significant role in how you feel emotionally, says Catherine Nay, M.Ed., RD, CHES, CSOWM, and Megan Brown, MPH, RD, registered dietitians with Michigan Medicine's Weight Management and Obesity Program, part of the Michigan Nutrition Obesity Research Center.

If you tend to turn to food for comfort, Nay and Brown explain there may be ways to harness the mood-boosting powers from within the foods you eat and beverages you drink that could positively support your mood and overall well-being.

"Since there's no single food or nutrient that can prevent depression, consuming a variety of vegetables, fruit, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains will ensure adequate intake of vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for good health" says Brown.

To harness some of their feel-good benefits over the holidays, Nay and Brown say to consider incorporating this following list of nutrients into your day with examples of foods and beverages to try:

1. Tryptophan

You have probably heard that turkey makes you sleepy. And there's some truth to it! Tryptophan, found in turkey, is an essential amino acid, meaning your body cannot produce it and it must be obtained from dietary sources. 

Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that the brain produces that plays a role in sleep, appetite, and impulse control.  Increased levels of serotonin can actually help elevate mood, but serotonin production is limited by the availability of tryptophan. If you don't like turkey, you can find tryptophan in nuts, milk, salmon, eggs, soy products, and spinach too.

SEE ALSO: How Diet Influences Mood and Mental Health  

2. Magnesium

Not only does spinach contain tryptophan, but it's also high in magnesium, which can support sleep and play a role in reducing anxiety, according to Nay. Other sources of magnesium include nuts, whole grains, and legumes.

3. Phytonutrients

Foods high in sugar can temporarily elevate your blood sugar. However, when your blood sugar drops, so can your mood. Instead of a high-sugar dessert, Nay advises opting for fruit or dark chocolate (in moderation).

"Berries contain phytonutrients, which help protect the brain from the impact of stress," says Nay. "Dark chocolate also contains cocoa flavanols, an antioxidant that's been shown to reduce inflammation and inflammation has been linked to depression."

4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Similar to phytonutrients, Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, lake trout and albacore tuna, can also help reduce inflammation in the body. The American Heart Association recommends consuming fish twice a week, but if you don't like fish, Brown says flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts also contain this healthy fat.

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5. Polyphenols

Beverages, especially caffeinated varieties, are another part of your diet that can secretly affect your mood. "Caffeine is a stimulant, and it can affect each individual differently," says Brown.   

Although it can interfere with sleep or contribute to feelings of anxiety, in moderation it may actually help to boost your mood. Coffee, tea and wine (in moderation) all contain beneficial plant polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that can decrease inflammation in the body. According to Nay, drinking more water can help your mood, since even mild dehydration can make you feel down in the dumps.

SEE ALSO: Healthy Good Tidings: 20 Ways to Manage Your Diet This Season  

Grilled salmon salad with a raspberry dressing. Photo credit: Stephanie King

To get started, try out this grilled salmon salad recipe to begin putting these mood-boosting components into play!

Grilled Salmon Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette


  • 2 cups fresh raspberries

  • 3 tablespoons of red-wine vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon of sugar

  • 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

  • 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest, plus more for garnish

  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt

  • 1/8 teaspoon of ground pepper


  • 4 4-5-oz skinless center-cut salmon fillets, 1 inch thick, thawed if frozen

  • Cooking spray

  • Cooking pan

  • 1/4 of teaspoon salt

  • 1/8 teaspoon of ground pepper

  • 6 cups of lightly packed fresh baby spinach (4 oz.)

  • 2 cups of fresh raspberries

  • 1/2 cup of crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese (2 oz.)

  • 1/4 cup of chopped toasted walnuts


  1. To make the vinaigrette, mix 2 cups of raspberries with the vinegar, sugar and mustard in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer, uncovered. Let it simmer for 8 to 10 minutes until the mixture is thick and the berries are broken down.

  2. Press the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl and get rid of the seeds. Mix in the lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Let it cool completely and thin with water if a different consistency is desired.

  3. To prepare the salad, turn on the stove to a medium heat.

  4. Pat the salmon dry and lightly coat with cooking spray and salt and pepper. Cook for 7 to 10 minutes until the flesh is light pink or white, and flaky.

  5. Combine the spinach and half the vinaigrette in a large bowl, tossing to fully coat. Divide between four plates and top the salad with the salmon, raspberries, feta and walnuts. Drizzle with the remaining dressing and garnish with lemon zest, if desired.

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This recipe is endorsed by Catherine Nay, M.Ed., R.D., C.H.E.S., C.S.O.W.M., and Megan Brown, M.P.H., R.D and can be found with additional nutrition facts at EatingWell.

More Articles About: Health Management Depression Weight Management Nutrition Mental Health Recipe
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