5 Foods to Instantly Boost Your Mood

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

When people talk about "comfort foods," they typically mean something hot, greasy, and not terribly nutritious. But foods can be comforting in a different way. Those rich in certain nutrients (such as tryptophan and probiotics) can stimulate neurotransmitter and hormone production, which can in turn lead to short and long-term mood boosts. Feel good about self-medicating with the following five foods.

1. Cocoa

Cocoa has been shown to boost focus, moods and blood flow to the brain. It's full of minerals and polyphenols that have beneficial brain effects. A study published in early 2013 found cocoa could increase feelings of calmness and contentedness, and a 2010 study found it could help alleviate mental fatigue. Typical chocolate candy contains little cocoa, however (and lots of fat and sugar), so look for dark chocolate, the higher the cocoa or cacao content the better. Hey, maybe this chocolate cranberry cake has health benefits!

2. Greek Yogurt

Scientist are learning that probiotics — like the live cultures found in Greek yogurt — may have a serious effect on mood and overall mental health. It seems the makeup of gut bacteria is almost as important for neurotransmitter production as the environment in the brain. In mice, consuming probiotics led to less anxiety and more energy, and scientists found changes in the areas of their brains related to emotion and mood. Miso, kimchi, kombucha, kefir and tempeh are also good probiotic sources.

3. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid which the body uses to create mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin. Sunflower seeds are also high in tryptophan, as are soybeans, sardines, salmon, chicken and tofu. Sprinkle seeds on top of carrot soup for crunch.

4. Lentils

A small bowl of of lentils will provide the majority of your recommended daily amounts of folate, an essential mood-boosting nutrient. There's a strong link between depression and low folate levels. Folate also helps with the synthesis of serotonin. Beans in general are good folate sources, as are avocado, citrus fruits and asparagus.

5. Leafy Greens

Magnesium is essential for biochemical reactions in the brain that boost energy levels. Unsurprisingly, most Americans get too little dietary magnesium. Next time you need to put some pep in your step, try skipping the Red Bull and having some magnesium-rich leafy greens. Raw spinach boasts one of the highest magnesium levels; Swiss chard and kale are also good sources — like in this kale, sweet potato, and beet salad. And these dark, leafy greens are also high in mood-boosting folate.