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From Hangry to Happy: 9 Mood-Boosting Foods

A woman eating salad.
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When the blues strike, we often find ourselves perusing the pantry for some salty or sugary snacks. But what if we told you there were some healthy, wholesome foods that could satisfy your cravings and boost your mood, too?

Many things can play into our moods and how we feel on the daily. However, some foods really do contain compounds and nutrients, like the essential amino acid, tryptophan and dopamine, both of which make us feel good.

So, check out these foods and bring on the smiles!

Chocolate

Chocolate has a delightful aroma and taste, which alone promotes happiness as soon as your tastebuds melt each morsel. But aside from its pleasant taste, an ounce of chocolate can contain up to 18mg of tryptophan, so it’s not a bad idea to have a small square whenever your sweet tooth is calling.

Plus, the sugar in chocolate is a quick fuel source for the brain. However, if you plan to add small amounts to your diet, be sure to go healthy by sticking with dark chocolate, as it’s lower in added sugar.

Certain Fish

A plate of salmon in honey-soy glaze with rice, spinach, and avocado.
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You’ve likely heard of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to their all-around health benefits, they might also reduce symptoms of depression. Foods that are rich in omega-3’s include salmon, cod, and canned tuna.

Salmon and canned tuna are also excellent sources of tryptophan, which has been shown to help benefit your overall happiness. If you enjoy munching on a can of anchovies or sardines, you’ll also love the added source of vitamin D—another great serotonin booster.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes taste delicious stuffed with all sorts of sweet or savory ingredients, but did you know they’re excellent on their own, too?

That’s because they’re loaded with vitamin C, which is essential for creating serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitters. From french fries to coconut curry, here are some of our favorite ways to eat these healthy tubers.

Turkey and Chicken

A turkey sandwich on wheat bread with tomato, lettuce, and onion.
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Turkey and chicken are healthy and popular sources of protein. Each also contains a fair amount of tryptophan, which is great for lifting your spirits.

If you’re looking for regular ways to include them in your diet, purchase a rotisserie chicken or turkey breast from your local supermarket. You’ll then have an already-cooked piece of meat as a wholesome deli meat replacement.

Both chicken and turkey taste fantastic in salads, on sandwiches, or you can shred them and add them to any meal for some perfect for protein.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats, fiber, and tryptophan, which lead to lifted spirits and soothing those hunger pangs.

When you feel hungry, a handful of nuts will increase your feeling of fullness until mealtime. It’s a quick and easy way to relieve those hangry feelings and promote joy instead.

Looking for healthy ways to add nuts to your diet? You can actually make nut butter from scratch. You can also add nuts to yogurt, sprinkle some on top of a salad, or simply enjoy a handful whenever you need a snack.

Like nuts, various seeds like sesames, carry tryptophan, which means serotonin and grins follow. Pumpkin seeds also contain loads of magnesium, which relieves stress and helps bring some calm into your life. So, consider crunching on those instead of chips or crackers next time you’re craving a salty snack.

Cheese

Two grilled cheese sandwiches on a plate.
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If you’re a lover of all things cheesy, then you’re in luck because (you guessed it) it’s also an excellent source of tryptophan. Aged cheeses also boast incredible umami (Japanese for “good flavor), a.k.a. “the fifth taste.”

The distinctive and pleasurable taste of cheese keeps us going back for seconds and thirds. When we indulge in foods that taste that delicious, we can’t help but feel pleasure.

The flavor is so effective that a food additive called Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is used in some foods to enhance the umami. So sprinkle some Mozzarella or Feta on your dinner or salad, or pick up some cottage cheese and enjoy.

Curious which cheeses are the healthiest? This list includes the three we mentioned above.

Eggs

Eggs (especially the yolks) are loaded with protein and tryptophan, which is great news if you love them over easy or in omelet form. The yolks also contain omega-3 fatty acids and biotin, which is important for eye, skin, and hair health.

So, if you are working hard on that perfect complexion or want to boost hair growth, get to scrambling! Otherwise, hard-boiled eggs make a great snack that’s easy to take on the go.

Some Fruits

A fruit salad parfait in a jar topped with whipped cream and berries.
Alena Haurylik/Shutterstock

A few fruits have small tryptophan levels combined with other healthy vitamins that will surely help turn your frown upside down. For example, bananas contain lots of vitamin B6, which will help create serotonin and dopamine.

According to this study, eating more fruits (and veggies) could possibly lower depression. You’ve heard it your whole life: Fruits and veggies are packed with vitamins and nutrients. So, always browse the produce section before heading to the snack aisles.

Try a fruit salad for lunch or before dinner, or have a fruit parfait for dessert. Of course, if you don’t enjoy many fruits on their own, you can always add other healthy ingredients and have them as a smoothie instead!


You should always check with your doctor before making any changes to your diet, However, an apple a day shouldn’t hurt, right?

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »

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