The old adage goes: "You are what you eat.” True?

You know that what you eat affects your waistline and risk for disease.

But did you know – simple changes in your diet can cause changes in your brain, which can impact your behavior, focus and overall mood.

Evidence that your mood depends in part on what you do (and don't) put in your body continues to grow.

Simple changes – including exercise – can make a huge impact on your sense of well-being.

So, if you need a little mood lift … and who doesn't? … get moving and tweak your diet!

Here are seven simple (and delicious!) ways to help boost your mood with good food.

1. Be smart about carbs
Have you cut carbs drastically to lose weight? That might be a mood mistake!

Studies show that a very low carbohydrate diet (about 5% of calories from carbs) enhances fatigue and lowers mood.

Moderate intake of carbs actually helps to boost levels of tryptophan, a non-essential amino acid. The more tryptophan in the brain, the higher your levels of serotonin, your body's natural mood regulator.

Just go very easy on metabolism-mangling "simple” carbs – sugars, and starches such as potatoes, pastries, pasta, and breads – by favoring fibrous, antioxidant-rich whole-food carbs like vegetables, legumes (beans or lentils), fruits, and (small amounts of) whole grains.

By the way, buckwheat is great choice, as it's actually an antioxidant-rich, non-grain related to sorrel and rhubarb!

2. Safeguard your mood with Omega-3s
Perhaps the most delicious way to get effective mood protection is with wild-caught fish.

Numerous studies have proven that people getting regular doses of omega-3 fatty acids experienced clear antidepressant benefits.

Omega-3s in your diet, from fish, flaxseed and nuts or from a supplement, can keep depression, anxiety and stress at bay.

Medical researchers and health authorities recommend two to three servings of fish or seafood a week, with some of it being fatty fish like wild salmon, sardines, sablefish, and tuna, which are especially rich in omega-3s.

According to the US Diet Guidelines for 2010, "Mean [average] intake of seafood in the United States is approximately 3 1/2 ounces per week, and increased intake is recommended.” (See "Eating More Fish Advised in U.S. Diet Guidelines”.)

3. Don't skip breakfast!
Start every day right with a balanced breakfast – research shows it's the key to a better memory, more energy and a feeling of peaceful calm.

No time for breakfast? Expect fatigue and anxiety to increase.

A good breakfast should include some fiber, some lean protein, some good fats and some whole grains. Think of breakfast as your daily foundation for a great mood.

4. Embrace the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet, rich in fresh fruits and veggies, fresh fish, whole grains, herbs and spices, olive oil, and red wine, has long been credited with extending life and protecting cardiovascular health.

Studies are now showing that it can also boost your brain and mood. For example, fish and olive oil are linked to better mood health … see "Fish and Olive Oil Linked to Better Mood” and "Mediterranean Diet May Guard Thinking and Memory”.

Early research on over 90,000 subjects found that those who ate a Mediterranean diet, particularly one rich in omega-3 fatty acids from fish and nuts, had lower levels of depression and higher levels of important mood regulators in the body.

5. Shine brighter with Vitamin D
Researchers have found a link between depression and vitamin D levels – study subjects reported an improvement in mood as their vitamin D levels increased.

Vitamin D works by boosting brain levels of serotonin ... your body's natural mood elevator. (See "Low Vitamin D Linked to Heart Disease and Depression” and "Vitamin D May Diminish Risk of Alzheimer's and Depression”.)

How to get your daily D?

Try a "sunshine and seafood” approach – wild salmon is the richest known source of D (significantly better than farmed salmon).

Or add a daily vitamin D supplement to your routine, made from pure, wild sockeye salmon and delivering 2000 IU of D3.

6. Go easy on the caffeine
For many, there's a "sweet spot” for caffeine consumption: too much, your sleep's disrupted and you feel anxious; too little, you feel fatigued and cloudy.

While caffeine can improve mood and mental performance in the short term, it also triggers the body's "fight-or-flight” response.

Unfortunately, "fight-or-flight” lets instinct outstrip your rational brain, which can cause some negative emotional side effects.

When it comes to caffeine, moderation is key!

7. Say "yes!” to dark chocolate
Want a lighter mood? Go darker with your chocolate.

Not only does dark chocolate produce antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body, it also helps to boost levels of endorphins and serotonin, your brain's feel-good mood enhancers. (See "Chocolate Makes for Good Moods”.)

Keep in mind, the daily "dose” of dark chocolate is 1 oz. Not an enormous serving … just enough to give you a much-needed lift!

Look for a high percentage of cocoa for better results, less sugar and more antioxidant power.

Cocoa powder itself is an even richer source of the polyphenol compounds that stimulate antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and chemicals linked to mood benefits.

But that's true only if you choose "natural”, non-Dutched cocoa – that is, the small minority of cocoa not treated with alkali – which has more polyphenol antioxidants than any other common food, beating even tea and berries by a mile.  

  • Defeyter MA, Russo R. The effect of breakfast cereal consumption on adolescents' cognitive performance and mood. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Nov 20;7:789. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00789. eCollection 2013
  • Johnston CS, Tjonn SL, Swan PD, White A, Hutchins H, Sears B. Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 May;83(5):1055-61.
  • Lloyd HM, Rogers PJ, Hedderley DI, Walker AF. Acute effects on mood and cognitive performance of breakfasts differing in fat and carbohydrate content. Appetite. 1996 Oct;27(2):151-64.
  • Nehlig A. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2012 Jul 10. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04378.x. [Epub ahead of print]
  • O'Connor A. The Claim: Skipping Breakfast Can Affect Your Mood and Energy Levels During the Day. The New York Times. February 21, 2006. Accessed at 
  • Pase MP, Scholey AB, Pipingas A, Kras M, Nolidin K, Gibbs A, Wesnes K, Stough C. Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Psychopharmacol. 2013 May;27(5):451-8. doi: 10.1177/0269881112473791. Epub 2013 Jan 29.
  • Psaltopoulou T, Sergentanis TN, Panagiotakos DB, Sergentanis IN, Kosti R, Scarmeas N. Mediterranean diet, stroke, cognitive impairment, and depression: A meta-analysis. Ann Neurol. 2013 Oct;74(4):580-91. doi: 10.1002/ana.23944. Epub 2013 Sep 16.
  • Rahe C, Unrath M, Berger K. Dietary patterns and the risk of depression in adults: a systematic review of observational studies. Eur J Nutr. 2014 Jun;53(4):997-1013. doi: 10.1007/s00394-014-0652-9. Epub 2014 Jan 28.
  • Rienks J, Dobson AJ, Mishra GD. Mediterranean dietary pattern and prevalence and incidence of depressive symptoms in mid-aged women: results from a large community-based prospective study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Jan;67(1):75-82. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2012.193. Epub 2012 Dec 5.
  • Sánchez-Villegas A, Martínez-González MA, Estruch R, Salas-Salvadó J, Corella D, Covas MI, Arós F, Romaguera D, Gómez-Gracia E, Lapetra J, Pintó X, Martínez JA, Lamuela-Raventós RM, Ros E, Gea A, Wärnberg J, Serra-Majem L. Mediterranean dietary pattern and depression: the PREDIMED randomized trial. BMC Med. 2013 Sep 20;11:208. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-11-208.
  • Swinburne University of Technology (STU). Dark chocolate improves calmness. May 3, 2013. Accessed at
  • Veasey RC, Gonzalez JT, Kennedy DO, Haskell CF, Stevenson EJ. Breakfast consumption and exercise interact to affect cognitive performance and mood later in the day. A randomized controlled trial. Appetite. 2013 Sep;68:38-44. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.04.011. Epub 2013 Apr 20.
  • Veasey RC, Gonzalez JT, Kennedy DO, Haskell CF, Stevenson EJ. Breakfast consumption and exercise interact to affect cognitive performance and mood later in the day. A randomized controlled trial. Appetite. 2013 Sep;68:38-44. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.04.011. Epub 2013 Apr 20.
  • Widenhorn-Müller K, Hille K, Klenk J, Weiland U. Influence of having breakfast on cognitive performance and mood in 13- to 20-year-old high school students: results of a crossover trial. Pediatrics. 2008 Aug;122(2):279-84. doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-0944.
  • Wurtman JJ. Serotonin: What It is and Why It's Important for Weight Loss. Psychology Today. August 5, 2010. Accessed at
  • Wurtman RJ, Wurtman JJ. Brain serotonin, carbohydrate-craving, obesity and depression. Obes Res. 1995 Nov;3 Suppl 4:477S-480S. Review.
  • Wurtman, RJ, Wurtman JJ. (1989) Carbohydrates and depression. Scientific American, 260, 68-75. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0189-68
  • Zeng, Y. , Li, S. , Xiong, G. , Su, H. and Wan, J. (2011) Influences of protein to energy ratios in breakfast on mood, alertness and attention in the healthy undergraduate students. Health, 3, 383-393. doi: 10.4236/health.2011.36065.