Stress. It’s an inevitable part of life, and if not managed well, it can quickly drain your energy, dampen your spirits, and affect your well-being. You’ve likely heard of (and tried) various stress-reducing techniques, but did you know that the foods you eat can play a powerful role in taming stress and elevating your emotional state?
This article will explore seven mood-boosting foods that can help you beat stress and increase your daily dose of joy. Whether you’re feeling blue or just a little blah, these foods will provide the necessary nutrients to support a happier and healthier you.
#1: Fatty Fish
There’s a reason fatty fish top most mood-boosting foods lists. Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, are rich in two types of essential omega-3 fatty acids— docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—that have been shown to have a positive impact on stress and mood.[*][*][*]
In a 2021 study, researchers found that omega-3 consumption reduced overall cortisol (the primary stress hormone) by up to 33 percent compared to the placebo.[*] Another study found that adults with higher omega-3 levels had a lower risk of depression.[*]
The human body cannot produce omega-3s, so we must consume them from food. Unfortunately, research shows that 70 percent of Americans are omega-3 deficient.[*]
In addition to fatty fish, some plant foods offer omega-3s, including chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds. Psst!: IQBARs contain a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseeds!
Ready for another reason to be obsessed with avocados? This creamy fruit is rich in healthy fats, fiber, and a range of vitamins and minerals that are essential for emotional well-being.
Avocados are an excellent source of monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to positively impact mood. They’re also rich in vitamin B6, which helps the body produce serotonin—the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, appetite, and sleep.
Additionally, avocados are rich in potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure and reduces stress levels.
#3: Fermented Foods
Fermented foods, such as kombucha, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, and yogurt, are a delicious way to consume probiotics–live bacteria that promote a healthy gut microbiome.
There is a growing body of research that connects probiotics with improved mood, achieved through three main mechanisms:
- First, a healthy gut supports the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that are critical for mood regulation.[*]
- Second, probiotics have been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (aka the stress hormone).[*]
- Third, probiotics can reduce brain inflammation, thereby reducing the risk of depression.[*]
#4: Leafy Greens
Leafy greens, such as spinach and chard, are packed with magnesium, an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in the body’s biochemical reactions, including our stress response and recovery.
Studies have shown that magnesium consumption can positively impact individuals who struggle with chronic stress and depression.[*] Unfortunately, an estimated 80 to 90 percent of Americans are deficient in this essential mineral.[*]
The recommended daily intake for men is 400-420 mg and 310-320 mg for women, yet both genders tend to fall short by hundreds of milligrams on average.[*] This can be attributed to several factors, including soil mineral deficiency, stress-induced magnesium depletion, and excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption, among others.[*]
To ensure you’re getting enough magnesium, aim to include these green veggies in your meals daily! You can also up your daily dose of magnesium with IQMIX, which contains 60 mg of magnesium per packet.
Adaptogens are powerful compounds found in certain plants and mushrooms that help regulate the body’s response to stress. For example, when the body is under stress, it produces and releases a stress hormone called cortisol. Adaptogens help lower this flood of cortisol.
If you’re looking for adaptogens to boost your mood and reduce stress, here are a few worth exploring:
- Rhodiola rosea herb has been demonstrated to have a significant positive effect on those with mild depression.[*]
- Ashwagandha, an herb, holds promise for individuals experiencing chronic stress and anxiety.[*]
- For those dealing with inflammation (which is closely linked to poor mood), chaga or lion’s mane mushroom may be a good fit.[*][*] IQBARs contain lion’s mane and other brain food to get your mind firing on all cylinders!
#6: Dark Chocolate
If you’re a chocolate lover, we have good news: cacao and its derivative, dark chocolate (both of which are abundant in polyphenols), have been shown through various studies to significantly boost people’s happiness and cognitive function.[*]
Researchers believe that the mood-enhancing effects of polyphenols are primarily due to their antioxidant properties, which reduce inflammation and harmful free radicals in the brain. Polyphenols also activate Nrf2 proteins in the body, which locate and repair damaged molecules.[*]
It’s also important to note that foods rich in polyphenols, such as cacao, often contain other mood-boosting compounds like anandamide (a neurotransmitter that reduces anxiety), tryptophan (an amino acid that turns into serotonin), and caffeine.
Lentils, a type of legume and a healthy source of carbohydrates, are packed with nutrients that contribute to better mood and reduced stress. One of these essential nutrients is tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to serotonin—the "feel-good" hormone in the brain.
Lentils are also high in fiber, which helps regulate blood sugar levels and provides a steady supply of energy throughout the day. This helps prevent mood swings that can be caused by fluctuating blood sugar levels.
To top it off, this healthy legume contains magnesium, folate, selenium, and potassium, all of which support mood and stress management.
Other Foods for Good Moods
In addition to the foods above, here are some other mood-boosting foods to add to your rotation:
- Sweet potato
- Whole grains (brown rice, millet, oats, etc.)
- Chickpeas and other types of beans
- Green tea
- Nuts (Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, etc.)
- MCT oil
If you need support creating a healthy eating approach, consider working with a dietitian.
A Final Word on Foods and Mental Health
Incorporating mood-boosting foods into your daily diet is a simple and effective way to help manage stress and promote feelings of joy. From fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, to fermented foods packed with probiotics, and adaptogens that regulate the body’s response to stress, there are many nutritious and tasty dietary options to choose from.
IQBARs are keto and vegan protein bars formulated with six nutrients shown to support sustained cognitive energy, performance, and health. Choose from flavors like Banana Nut, Chocolate Sea Salt, Matcha Chai, Lemon Blueberry, and more. Not sure which flavors to choose? Try our 7-Bar Sampler to find your favorites!
If you’re looking for a way to support hydration and brain health, consider IQMIX—a sugar-free hydration mix. Available in Lemon Lime, Blood Orange, Peach Mango, and Blueberry Pomegranate flavors, these mixes contain magnesium L-threonate, lion’s mane, potassium, and sodium for brain and body wellness.Learn more about the nutrients inside IQBARs and IQMIX and how they can boost your brain function here!