Mood enhancing foods: 10 foods that boost your mood

sweet potato curry with turmeric and spinach

When we are feeling out-of-sorts or low in energy, one of the first things we might do is reach for unhealthy treats to try and give us a boost.

However, nutrition and mental health are intrinsically linked. Our food choices greatly impact our mood, energy and brain health. Which makes eating nourishing and nutrient-filled foods even more important.

Our resident nutritionist Stephanie Gobbo has shared with us her top 10 mood boosting foods:

“The below list of foods are all rich in vitamins, polyphenols and anti-inflammatory properties which protect the brain from oxidative damage and enhance BDNF- brain derived neurotrophic factor. Including these foods in your daily diet has neuro-protective effects for the brain and for mental wellbeing.”


Cacao is rich in Magnesium and B Vitamins which help to boost our natural dopamine (happy-hormone) levels. This improves mood regulation, motivation, movement and memory.

Research also shows that cacao contains antioxidant flavonoids, which are shown to benefit cognitive function and have anti-inflammatory properties.

Steph’s mood-boosting cacao berry smoothie:


This smoothie is filled with plant protein to produce our brain chemicals, magnesium for energy and stress support, antioxidants for the brain and mood boosting nutrients that naturally lift dopamine and serotonin.


    • 1 cup of frozen blueberries or mixed berries
    • 1 tablespoon of cacao powder
    • Handful of walnuts
    • 1 tablespoon of chia seeds
    • 1 banana
    • 1 teaspoon of Maca powder
    • Sprinkle of Cinnamon
    • 2 tablespoons of coconut yoghurt
    • 1 scoop of plant-based protein powder
    • 1.5 cups of nut milk


Blend well and serve.


Turmeric is a powerful natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant for the whole body including the brain.

The active constituent in turmeric: Curcumin, has been shown in research to boost BDNF- brain derived neurotrophic factor. BDNF positively affects our cognitive functioning, learning and memory.

Curcumin is also thought to support both serotonin and dopamine (happy hormone) release, which positively benefits mental health.

Tip: Your natural absorption of turmeric is improved when taken alongside black pepper and a healthy fat source.

Turkey & Chicken

Turkey is rich in amino acids and a good source of tryptophan which is the building block for all our mood enhancing brain chemicals.

One of the chemicals that Tryptophan helps to produce is serotonin, a happy hormone which helps us regulate our mood.

Also, Tryptophan is thought to have a beneficial impact on attention and memory.

Turkey can be tricky to find in New Zealand (outside of Christmas time), so other sources of tryptophan include chicken, milk, and tuna.


Blueberries contain powerful polyphenol antioxidants such as anthocyanin which enhance cognitive functioning and have a protective effect on the brain.

Fact: Anthocyanin is also responsible for the deep purple and blue colour of blueberries.

Try adding a handful of frozen blueberries to your smoothies, porridge, or even into some healthy breakfast muffins.


Spinach and dark leafy greens are rich in magnesium which is a mineral shown to support relaxation. Magnesium levels are also directly related to mental wellbeing, including reducing stress hormones, anxiety and support restorative sleep.

Other good sources of magnesium include: Pumpkin seeds, almond, cashews and dark chocolate.

Green tea

Green tea contains the non-protein amino acid L-theanine which decreases cortisol, anxiety and improves sleep. Research has shown it also improves relaxation, tension and feelings of calm.

As well as this, green tea contains a small amount of caffeine which in low doses has been shown to improve mood, cognitive performance and alertness. Although worth noting that too much caffeine can have the opposite effect.

Bone broth

Bone broth is rich in collagen, gelatine, glycine and glutamine – which support our gut health. These are also thought to support mood due to the connection between our Gut and Brain - as 90% of our serotonin happy hormone is produced in the gut. So, supporting your gut subsequently supports serotonin production.

As well as this, glycine and glutamine help to create GABA- our natural inhibitory, anti-anxiety and sleep maintenance neurotransmitter.

Tip: You can make your own bone broth by cooking leftover chicken bones, vegetables and water. You can find Steph’s recipe here.


Salmon and oily seafood are rich in EPA & DHA- long chain Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids which are protective for a healthy brain and nervous system and have also been shown to support mood balance.

Alternative food sources for your daily dose of Omega 3 fatty acids could include oily fish like tuna, mackerel and salmon, nuts like flaxseed and walnuts or avocado.


Walnuts are the highest antioxidant and phytonutrient rich tree nut. They are also rich in Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids which we mentioned above, and have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect on the brain in times of stress.

Tip: Try adding a small handful of chopped walnuts to a salad or keep them in your bag to munch on as your morning snack.


Saffron has been shown in several studies to improve mood and wellbeing in those experiencing low mood, anxiety and depressive symptoms.

It is also thought to help boost serotonin and to be protective for the brain when you are experiencing ongoing stress.

When we are needing a pick me up, processed and sugary foods might feel good in the moment nut in the long-run, nourishing and nutrient rich foods are the best choice to help us naturally boost your mood.

Would you like a week of mood-boosting recipes?

We’ve partnered with the team at assortment to bring you four mood boosting dinner recipes to feed both your body and your mind.

Simply sign up for a 7-day free trial with assortment this week, and you’ll get free access to the recipes and shopping lists.

miso baked salmon bowls  mustard chicken skewers walnut, basil, spinach pesto orzo salad  sweet potato curry

At BraveFace, our mission is to give you the tools you need to overcome unwanted feelings and be your best. Part of this is working with an incredible advisory board of experts to create helpful resources for you.