Mood Boosters on the Menu

By Thomas Cazneau

We’ve all heard the saying “You are what you eat.” … Well, it’s true! Often times, the feel-good foods and beverages we prefer to consume can change the mood that we’re in.

All food items contain a certain level of neurotransmitters, which can greatly affect your mood at particular levels. The trick to sustaining a better mood knows is knowing which food and drink items can act as mood boosters and which ones behave as mood culprits. Below are examples of both good mood foods and bad mood foods that you may want to consider including or altering in your diet.

Bad Mood Foods: Mood Drainers

Below are examples of bad mood foods. 

1. Soy:

Products made from soy contain goitrogens. Goitrogens can negatively impact thyroid function, which can lead to exhaustion and irritability. Common soy products include soy flour, tempeh, tofu, soy hot dogs, miso, soy butter, soy ice cream, soy milk, soy yogurt, soy cheese, and soy noodles.

Alternative Suggestions: Drink nut milks instead of soy milk. Almond milk is a popular substitute. Find other healthy plant sources of proteins such as nuts, legumes or grains. If you find it hard to give up a certain soy product, try looking for fermented soy products instead. Fermented soy products are okay because the fermentation process disables some of the soy’s negative elements.

2. Diet sodas:

The diet vs. regular soda debate is not new. However, it’s probably safe to say that diet soda is not as healthy as it used to seem. Diet soda is compounded with tons of chemicals, including artificial sweetener. Several individuals who drink a diet soft drink have reported headaches, mood swings, and other health issues. (For more information on health studies centered around soft drinks, click here.)

Alternative Suggestions: The ideal alternative would be to drink fresh water with a squeeze of lemon, because lemon water helps normalize PH levels, which in turn regulates mood levels. If you do choose to have a soda, opt for regular instead of diet. Although neither is very healthy, regular could be classified as the lesser of two evils.

3. Sugar:

Let’s admit it… sugar tastes amazing! However, it can definitely be a mood drainer. At first, it leads to a rise in a blood glucose levels, and your body releases insulin as a way to return them to safe levels. You may experience an energy dip and ultimately mood changes as your blood glucose attempts to normalize. This is even true of agave and high-fructose corn syrup.

Alternative Suggestions: Use natural sweeteners such as stevia or xylitol.

4. Coffee:

Many people rely on coffee drinks to give them a daily boost. The caffeine in coffee, however, can trigger anxiety because it affects the adrenaline centers of the brain. This anxiety can cause irritability and cause mood swings.

Alternative Suggestions:Start your day with a healthy juice smoothie. This will give you the energy you want without also negatively changing your mood.


Good mood foods: Feel Goodies

Below are examples of good mood foods.

1. Complex Carbs
Eating carbs that are minimally processed or unrefined can boost the levels of serotonin in your brain. This can elevate your mood without also taking your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride.

Mood boosters to consider: Quinoa, millet, steel cut oatmeal, brown rice

2. High-selenium foods

Those foods that are deficient in selenium can lead to feelings of irritability and depression. They can also affect thyroid levels, which again can cause someone to feel exhausted when at a low level. So eating foods that are high in selenium can increase thyroid function and quickly boost your mood.

Mood boosters to consider: Brazil nuts, crimini mushrooms, fish

3. High folate foods

Foods deficient in folate are linked to depression, because they can decrease serotonin levels in the brain. Eating foods that are high in folate can overcome these deficiencies

Mood boosters to consider: Dark, leafy greens (like spinach), and legumes (like lentils or kidney beans)

4. Spicy foods

Don’t forget the spices! Spicy foods can increase circulation, causing your brain to release endorphins. Endorphins help boost your mood immensely.

Mood boosters to consider: chili peppers

These are just some of the many foods and drinks that can act as mood boosters. They are not medical recommendations, but general recommendations only. For a personal consultation on what the right foods for you and your mood are, we highly suggest speaking with a nutritionist. Kaiser Permanente has offers amazing nutritionists available at their many locations. For more information about becoming a Kaiser Permanente member, feel free to give us a call at 1-800-514-0958 or email us at

We would love to read about your ideas too! Post any food or drink items that you have found to be effective mood boosters.


Comment from deanna hanson
Time: February 6, 2013, 6:01 pm

Good to know.

Comment from Shannon S
Time: February 6, 2013, 7:26 pm

I believe it..trying to cut the bad out…

Comment from Trisha Scott
Time: February 6, 2013, 8:46 pm

Great info thanks

Comment from Nancy Reid
Time: February 7, 2013, 1:21 am

This information is very helpful. It’s always nice to know that foods that can help us rather than taking medications! Thank you.

Comment from Kat
Time: February 7, 2013, 3:30 am

Great article! This explains why I feel so good after I eat a bowl of oatmeal in the morning. I really need to drink more water with lemon. Thanks for the tips!

Comment from Reggie Lim
Time: February 7, 2013, 5:25 am

Wow I always thought soy was a good food

Comment from Alejandro
Time: February 25, 2013, 3:19 pm

Good blog

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