May 1, 2024

Good Foods to Support a Good Mood

By Hannah Anderson MA, RDN, LDN, CLS
Hy-Vee Registered Dietician
(515) 695-3602

We often think about how food affects our physical health, but what about our mental health? Your mental health is how you think, feel, handle stress, and relate to others. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s talk about how what you eat can directly impact your mood and mental health.

Our food choices can impact our body’s ability to produce two brain chemicals that are key players in our mental health: dopamine and serotonin. Our gut health also plays an integral role as the balance of good vs. bad bacteria in your gut can also influence your body’s ability to produce these brain chemicals. And one of the keys to having a healthy balance of gut bacteria is a balanced diet. Regarding foods that support your mental health, focus on several key nutrients.

The first are B vitamins, such as vitamins B6 and B9. Vitamin B6 is needed to make serotonin, and low levels of serotonin are associated with depression. Vitamin B6 is not made in the body, so it must be consumed through food. There is also vitamin B9 or folate. This vitamin has also been linked to depression due to its impact on dopamine and serotonin. Foods that contain B vitamins include beets, green peas, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, avocado, and chicken.

Protein is another nutrient that is crucial for mental health. Protein is made up of amino acids, which play an important role in creating brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. Focusing on protein-rich foods can also help promote more stabilized blood sugar levels, which has also been associated with improved mental health. Protein also helps keep you fuller longer, which promotes improved energy levels and feelings of calm. To get enough protein, include chicken, beef, eggs, fish, beans, tofu and Greek yogurt.

We not only need to make enough of these essential brain chemicals, but also make sure they can get where they need to go. That’s where our last nutrient, omega-3 fatty acids, comes in. Omega-3 fats help those brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin travel more easily throughout the brain. Omega-3 vitamins also help reduce inflammation and have been shown to help with concentration and focus. To get more omega-3 on your plate, include salmon, mackerel, avocado, walnuts and chia seeds.

Remember, an overall balanced diet is a great way to ensure you are getting enough of all these mood-boosting foods. A balanced diet can also be a great addition to any treatments your doctor recommends to help improve your mental health. It can also be helpful to meet with a Hy-Vee registered dietitian to help you pinpoint which mood-boost nutrients your current eating habits might be missing. Be sure to reach out to me at to schedule your free discovery session today!  And if you’re looking for an easy way to incorporate these mood-boosting foods, try this Mexican-Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potato recipe.

Image courtesy of Hy-Vee, Inc.

Mexican-Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Serves 2

All you need:

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 ¼ cups Hy-Vee fresh pico de gallo, divided
  • ¾ cup Hy-Vee canned no salt added black beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup shredded Hy-Vee rotisserie chicken
  • 1 ½ tsp salt-free fajita seasoning
  • ½ cup Hy-Vee finely shredded Mexican cheese
  • ¼ cup Hy-Vee plain low-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • Fresh cilantro, for garnish

All you do:

  1. Scrub sweet potatoes; pat dry. Pierce potatoes all over with a fork. Place potatoes in a microwavable-safe baking dish; cover with plastic wrap—microwave on HIGH for 13 to 15 minutes or until fork-tender.
  2. Stir together 3/4 cup pico de gallo, black beans, chicken and 1 tsp. fajita seasoning in a medium microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap—microwave on HIGH for
    1-1/2 to 3 minutes or until hot.
  3. Cut potatoes lengthwise in half. Place each potato, cut sides up, on a microwave-safe serving plate. Slightly fluff the inside of the potatoes with a fork. Sprinkle each potato half with 2 Tbsp. cheese. Top with chicken mixture and remaining 1/4 cup cheese—microwave each uncovered potato on HIGH for 1 to 2 minutes or until cheese is melted.
  4. Top potatoes with 1/2 cup pico de gallo, Greek yogurt, and diced avocado. Garnish with cilantro, if desired.

Recipe adapted from:

Shop all of these ingredients at Hy-Vee Aisles Online.

The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.

Filed Under: Health & Wellness

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