Eating when you’re stressed or feeling low is usually not recommended—after all, that box of doughnut holes will likely just make you feel worse (and sick on top of it all) after the sugar high wears off. But certain foods have lasting powers to bust anxiety, fight depression, and turn around a bad day.
1. Fortified whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk and blueberries
Fights depression. The cereal’s fortified with vitamin B, which studies have linked to good mental health Association between folate, vitamin B(6) and vitamin B(12) intake and depression in the SUN cohort study. Sanchez-Villegas, A., Doreste, J., Schlatter, J., et al. School of Health Sciences, Department of Clinical Sciences, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, Spain. Journal of Human Nutrition and Diet 2009;22(2):122-33. . Plus research suggests people who slurp down vitamin D in a serving of milk don’t just build strong bones—they’re also less likely to get depressed. And those berries may be blue, but they keep us from feeling that way. So grab a spoon in the morning. Even a soggy bowl says smile!
2. Banana-almond-flax smoothie
Fights depression and stress. Slurp some happiness on the go with a smoothie that does wonders for both mental health and taste buds. Nuts and flaxseed are great sources of omega-3s, which may help fight depression and anxiety Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a controlled randomized trial. Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K., Belury, M.A., Andridge, R., et al. Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, Ohio State University College of Medicine, OH. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2011;25(8):1725-34. .
3. Buckwheat pancakes
Beats stress. Whether they’re for breakfast or dinner, pancakes can almost always brighten up a bad day. And there’s science behind it too: Buckwheat pancakes pack flavonoids that may help reduce stress (at least in mice Germinated Buckwheat extract decreases blood pressure and nitrotyrosine immunoreactivity in aortic endothelial cells in spontaneously hypertensive rats. Kim, D.W., Hwang, I.K., Lim, S.S., et al. Phytotherapy Research, 2009 Jul;23(7):993-8. ).
4. Full-fat Greek yogurt with honey and granola
Fights depression, boosts pleasure. This positivity parfait packs a bunch of happy ingredients: Protein from a creamy cupful of Greek yogurt increases levels of pleasure-boosting neurotransmitters, and the yogurt's probiotics may be a tasty way to fight depression Major depressive disorder: probiotics may be an adjuvant therapy. Logan, A.C., Katzman, M. Nutrition Research Consulting, Yonkers, NY. Medical hypotheses 2005;64(3):533-8. . Honey really is a spoonful of sweetness, with compounds that may fight depression by reducing inflammation in the brain. (Throw on some berries for extra healthy points!)
5. Warm quinoa, spinach, and shitake salad
Fights depression and anxiety. Quinoa’s not only an awesome vegan protein source—it’s also a complex carbohydrate that can help prevent depression and anxiety by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. And beyond the mood-boosting B vitamins in spinach, mushrooms are a source of selenium, a compound that may help fight depression Selenium and clinical trials: new therapeutic evidence for multiple diseases. Sanmartin, C., Piano, D., Font, M., et al. Department of Organic and Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of Navarra, Irunlarrea, Pamplona, Spain. Current Medicinal Chemistry 2011;18(30):4635-50. . This superfood-packed salad's got all the goods!
6. Salmon salad with vinaigrette
Fights depression. When a bad mood hits, try a forkful of fish to feel better. This salmon salad is chock-full of omega-3-filled ingredients (like salmon and olive oil) that can help prevent symptoms of depression Fish-consumption and self-reported physical and mental health status. Silvers, K.M, Scott, K.M. New Zealand Institute for Crop & Food Research, New Zealand. Public Health Nutrition, 2002;5(3):427-31. Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a controlled randomized trial. Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K., Belury, M.A., Andridge, R., et al. Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, Ohio State University College of Medicine, OH. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2011;25(8):1725-34. . Swap plain ol’ lettuce for spinach leaves to really bust your funk.
7. Beet, citrus, and avocado salad
Boosts energy. This colorful concoction brightens up the mood and the dining table to boot. A bowlful of beets helps increase happiness Does diet affect our mood? The significance of folic acid and homocysteine. Karakuła, H., Opolska, A., Kowal, A., et al. Polski Merkuriusz Lekarski. 2009 Feb;26(152):136-41. with tons of folate; the vitamin C in citrus fruit reduces distress; and the flavonoids in a squirt of lemon juice benefit the brain. Tell a bad day to beet it!
8. Wild seaweed salad
Fights depression and anxiety. Vegetarians and carnivores alike can enjoy the positive feelings that come from a bowl of this snazzy salad. Seaweed’s a source of iodine, which can help fight depression; brown rice is a complex carb that helps stabilize mood with serotonin; and the omega-3s in EVOO and flavonoids in lemon may boost mood. That's some good-tasting good vibes!
9. Poached eggs and asparagus
Fights depression and anxiety. Eggs are a (perhaps surprisingly) good source of vitamin D, which may be important for fighting depression; they also provide mood-boosting vitamin B. And asparagus is a source of tryptophan, which increases levels of serotonin in the brain and helps prevent depression and anxiety Tryptophan as an evolutionarily conserved signal to brain serotonin: molecular evidence and psychiatric implications. Russo, S., Kema, I.P., Bosker, F., et al. Department of Psychiatry, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands, World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, 2009;10(4):258-68. . Serve them any time of the day.
10. Brown rice and black beans
Fights depression and anxiety. Beans aren’t just good for the heart—they’re good for the mind too, since the selenium in them may pick you back up when you're feeling low. Plus brown rice can boost mood by regulating serotonin levels. Try this great recipe for happiness.
11. Almond-crusted barramundi fish
Fights depression. The name of this meal is fun to say, but that’s not all that’s great about it. Barramundi fish and almonds are excellent sources of omega-3s, which can help reduce depression and anxiety. Serve it with a side of spinach for a dose of B vitamins that also help create a positive mood. (Can’t find barramundi fish in the local grocery store? Try sea bass instead, although it doesn’t have quite as many omega-3s.)
12. Seared lamb chops with anchovies
Fights depression and beats stress. Go classier—and happier—than chicken wings and use grass-fed meat in this dinner recipe. Lamb is packed with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a compound that reduces stress hormones, and anchovies provide depression-fighting omega-3s.
13. Turkey burger with sweet potato fries
Fights depression and anxiety. Step up the traditional burger ’n fries with a meal that’s easier on the belly and the brain. The tryptophan in turkey increases levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. Plus sweet potatoes are filled with mood-boosting vitamin B6.
14. Lentil and vegetable stew with kale
Fights depression. Curl up with a cup of lentil stew on a rainy day to keep things sunny inside. Kale and the little legumes are great sources of folate, important for a good mood Folate status and mood: is there a relationship? Williams, E., Stewart-Knox, B., McConville, C., et al. Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland. Public Health Nutrition, 2008;11(2):118-23. . Then go outside to jump in the puddles.
15. Walnut-miso noodles
Fights depression, anxiety, and stress. Everything about this dish screams healthy, happy, and delicious. Whole-wheat pasta is a complex carb that increases serotonin levels, and walnuts pack omega-3s that fight depression and anxiety.
16. Spaghetti with steamed mussels
Fights depression and anxiety. Mussels—and most types of shellfish—are loaded with B12, important for a good mood Characterization of vitamin B12 compounds from edible shellfish, clam, oyster, and mussel. Watanabe, F., Katsura, H., Takenaka, S., et al. Departmnet of Health Science, Kochi Women’s University, Kochi. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2001;52(3):263-8. . Try this recipe, which features whole-wheat pasta and EVOO. A balanced meal that includes carbs, protein, and fat (like this one) can stop a case of the Debby Downers in its tracks.
17. Whole-wheat pasta with cauliflower and collards
Fights depression. This vegetarian pasta dish has complex carbs, which help regulate mood, plus a serving of healthy veggies. Be generous with the cauliflower—it not only tastes good, it also brings vitamin B6 and folate.
18. Braised collards with tomatoes
Fights depression. This picture-perfect side features B vitamins and lycopene, which may fight depression A tomato-rich diet is related to depressive symptoms among an elderly population aged 70 years and over: a population-based, cross-sectional analysis. Niu, K., Guo, H., Kakizaki, M., et al. Journal of Affective Disorders, 2013 Jan 10;144(1-2):165-70. . Substitute cherry tomatoes for the whole tomatoes in this recipe, since it’s easier to eat more of the lycopene-packed skin that way.
19. Fresh corn and blue potato hash
Fights depression. Don’t worry, these potatoes aren’t moldy, but they are delicious ways to get happy. Blue potatoes (and their skins) are loaded with anthocyanins and iodine, nutrients that reduce inflammation in the brain and help regulate mood. This creative recipe adds an extra bonus with the mood-boosting B vitamins in spinach.
Snacks and Desserts
20. Granola bars with chocolate
Fights depression and anxiety. These homemade treats may look like cookies, but they’re actually nutritious ways to perk up. They’re filled with ingredients that fight depression and anxiety, like the omega-3s in flaxseed. Even better, dark chocolate’s a stress-buster and oats are a source of soluble fiber that helps prevent mood swings.
21. Trail mix with nuts and dark chocolate
Boosts alertness and beats stress. This crunchy combo helps stabilize blood sugar, blocking the risk of a sugar crash (and a major case of grouchiness). Plus nuts can increase levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood (and digestion) Metablomics unveils urinary changes in subjects with metabolic syndrome following 12-week nut consumption. Tulipani, S., Llorach, R., Jauregui, O., et al. Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain. Journal of Proteome Research, 2011;10(11):5047-58. . And a smidge of dark chocolate can prevent sluggishness with high levels of theobromine, a stimulant similar to caffeine. Plus even a few bites of the sweet stuff can reduce levels of sneaky stress hormones.
22. Chocolate chia seed pudding
Fights depression and anxiety. Ch-ch-ch-chia! And chocolate! A more nutritious alternative to the standard pudding cup, this recipe's a double-whammy for a good mood. Chia seeds are a source of those depression-and-anxiety-reducing omega-3s, and dark cocoa powder helps keep bad moods in check. Try it as a snack, dessert, or breakfast.
23. Coffee with cinnamon
Boosts energy. There’s no Red Bull required to make it through a long afternoon. Coffee’s a natural stimulant, boosting energy and metabolism so you can face the day. A cup o’ joe may also create feel-good feelings (in humans and in rats) by increasing levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin Modulation of the stress response by coffee: an in vivo microdialysis study of hippocampal serotonin and dopamine levels in rat. Laboratory of Food Processing, Department of Nutrition Sciences, Nakamaura Gauken University, Fukuoka, Japan. Neuroscience Letters, 2002;332(2):87-90. . And a sprinkle of cinnamon’s all it takes to put some more pep in that step.
24. Green tea and honey
Relieves anger and anxiety. Sip a cup of the green stuff at breakfast, before bedtime, or during a relaxing afternoon break. Green tea’s a great source of theanine, which may help relax the mind and make you more alert.
Originally published March 2012. Updated February 2015.