Everyone talks about how food affects physical health. Eat too much and you gain weight; eat too little and your body hoards fat stores and you still gain weight. The cycle never ends and you are never at peace. Relationships with food are hard and deeply personal. You constantly wonder how the meal in front of you is going to affect your body, but do you ever think about how it will affect your mind? Have you noticed feelings of sluggishness or even sadness after eating? Emotional well-being is directly tied to nutrition because of the connection between the brain and the digestive tract. Here are five delicious food choices you can make to improve your mood.

1. Spinach

Dark, leafy green vegetables like spinach are full of folate (folic acid), a B-vitamin important for the formation of red blood cells. Studies have found that a deficiency in folic acid may be a cause for anxiety leading to depression. Additionally, folate aids dopamine production in the brain, which activates the pleasure center. Adding spinach to your diet is an easy way to combat this deficit. If you, like many others, struggle to consume enough green veggies as part of your daily intake, consider adding green superfood powder to your daily regimen and start feeling better. 

2. Fish

Fatty fish like tuna and salmon are nutrient-dense with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lessen symptoms of depression. Omega-3s also affect the flexibility of the cellular membrane in the brain, affecting the signaling process and development. Incorporating fish into your diet one or two days a week can significantly impact your mood and overall well-being.

3. Peppers

Peppers are packed full of vitamin C, which prevents the body from producing cortisol, the hormone that causes stress. Sustained stress leads to elevated anxiety and other mood disorders. Yellow peppers have the greatest concentration of vitamin C, followed by red peppers. The awesome thing about keeping a stock of peppers is that you can slice them, pack them and carry them around with you all day for an easily accessible snack on the go. For meals, you can simply chop them up and add them to salads, soups, stir-fry and other healthy dishes for an extra boost of nutrients for your brain and body.

4. Dark Chocolate

That’s right! Chocolate is an excellent choice for a quick brain-booster. Low in added sugar but high in flavonoids, chemical messengers that increase blood flow and send fast fuel to the brain, dark chocolate supports mood regulation. Plus, it tastes and smells delicious. So, especially on those days when making a healthy choice is extremely tough, a small square of 70% or higher dark chocolate can release those feel-good emotions and help you stay on track.

5. Berries

Studies have shown that people whose regular diets include berries are less likely to suffer from depression and other mood conditions. Berries are rich in antioxidants, which fight oxidative stress and may help to decrease inflammation in the body. They also provide the brain with a quick boost of glucose, making them an excellent alternative to sugar for decreasing irritability. 

The key to maintaining a healthy relationship with food is practicing grace. You do not need to change your entire diet and lifestyle overnight. Take it day by day and make one healthy choice at a time. Mentally survey your mood after enjoying a nutritious meal. Do you feel more energetic? Are you able to focus better on work or daily tasks? Let your positive mood guide you to your next healthy decision. Forgive yourself if you fall off the wagon and into a plate of cookies on a hard day.

It may take some time to reach your physical, mental and emotional health goals, and that’s OK! Ultimately, nutritious food, along with hydration and moderate exercise, can curb those anxiety-inducing mood fluctuations and let you concentrate on the things that matter most to you.