Good Mood Foods to Keep Spirits Bright

It goes without saying that the stress-and-trauma response was an all too welcome phenomena felt throughout the pandemic. And at no other time was this experienced more than during the holiday season. Keeping our moods and spirits bright has at times been challenging and certainly a test to what we can all endure.

While we are unsure what the future holds for this holiday season, I want to highlight some essential food aids that may be of great service to you in keeping your spirits bright when you find yourself in a difficult and/or isolating situation. Included is an explanation for why they are very effective at keeping you calm:

Cacao:  Dark chocolate can be a great memory and mood booster due to the variety of polyphenolic compounds it contains. Cacao has been found to promote neuroplasticity, which is the central nervous system (~brain)’s capacity to change neuronal connections and behavior in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage, or dysfunction. This is why dark chocolate is thought to improve cognitive abilities and, possibly, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. And so, have only a tiny bit of dark chocolate during the early daytime hours, but ideally not after 4 p.m. since they will hinder sleep and trigger a rebound stress response. 

Cranberries:  These tart berries contain chemical compounds that may boost brain health, aid in stroke recovery, protect the brain from oxidative damage from toxins and microbes, and enhance overall immune function. Decreasing inflammation in this way can have a huge impact on how you feel. So have 3 dried cranberries versus a sugary snack/drink or alcohol to both calm you down and keep stress at bay.  If you prefer drinking cranberry juice, dilute it with only 5% of the glass containing the actual juice and the remainder being water. 

Herbs:  Rosemary, oregano, thyme, basil, and cilantro are rich in phytonutrients that combat underlying inflammatory processes, thereby improving mood. Add these herbs to your drinks and/or meals as often as possible. 

Leafy Greens:  Leafy veggies are loaded with fiber, B vitamins like folate, magnesium, and thousands of polyphenols, which help with brain, mood, memory, energy, and immune function. Higher Intakes of raw vegetables (and lower-glycemic fruits, in general) has been shown to boost mood and cognitive function. Make greens the main percentage of your first meal. It is a great way to start the day and get your mind away from believing you have to have traditional breakfast foods and/or coffee/caffeinated beverages not necessarily calming for the body and mind. 

Pumpkin and Squashes:  The fall gives rise to many different kinds of squashes rich in carotenoids (precursors to Vitamin A), which is an immune powerhouse antioxidant that quells inflammation.  They increase the amino acid tryptophan, the precursor to happy chemical serotonin, and when low causes depression symptoms. So eating a variety of squashes can both increase serotonin levels and make you happy. It’s also worth mentioning that the nutrient-profile of pumpkin scores a 46% on the Antidepressant Food Score and butternut squash scores a 34%.

Spices:  Similar to the arsenal of herbs at our disposal, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric, cumin, and marjoram are particularly great in lifting one’s spirits. So add them to your hot herbal tea and your dishes as a great replacement for sugar or honey. 

Vegetable Broth:  Vegetable broth can be made from leftover fruit and vegetable scraps, and you can add L-glutamine or glycine as supplements to increase the overall nutrient density.  Glycine is a calming amino acid for the nervous system. Always try to choose vegetable broth versus chicken or beef broth known to trigger spikes in stress, irritability, anxiety and/or depression. 

Balancing the Emotional and Physical Wellbeing

Focusing on these “Good Mood Foods” is just one part of the protocol. It should be no surprise that daily movement/exercise, stress-reduction practices (i.e., meditation, journaling), and developing consistent sleep habits are all critical to keep us balanced and happy. 

Working on any one of these alone can be tough, especially during the holiday season. To that end, I would encourage you to develop new holiday traditions with your close family and friends. For instance, challenge yourselves to cook nutrient-dense, nourishing plant-based fresh foods that you’ve always wanted to try (but never actually made because of “tradition” or fear that certain members of your family wouldn’t eat them). Having more people on board will improve your overall success. By doing so, you are challenging yourself and others to forge new habits that involve thinking of optimal wellness, which just so happens to bring about a good mood. Stressing out and kowtowing to the demands of others will not make you (or anyone else for that matter) feel good.

Adopting New Holiday Traditions

A major factor in determining our mood and how we feel is the result of the food we eat. The only way we are going to see any improvement is if we keep trying. As the pandemic taught us, small steps may seem difficult at first but things get easier with time. If each one of us can commit to not our own self-care and nourishing our families and others, then we can make beneficial changes in our mood and overall health. This first involves gaining awareness on how we feel, think and act and then setting up a routine to incorporate new habits into our mindset and daily routine. 

The holiday season is the time to reach out to family members and friends; do so more often and check-in on their health and wellbeing. Consider offering to make food or host a gathering. It’s hard to turn down a home-cooked meal, even if it is considered “too healthy” for most Western diet consumers. Send cards or a healthy food kit from a local farmer or restaurant. Be creative and embrace the challenge of bettering your mood (and life) by building better habits. You can literally start right now by doing any one of the following:  
incorporate more nutrient-dense plant-based foods as a large percentage of your diet, 
move your body more every 60 to 90 minutes, 
shutting down the computer/electronics a few hours before bed and go to sleep earlier even if you are not super tired (let your mind rest)
Journal as a way to get your thoughts down so that you don’t have to store them in your mind and keep ruminating on them
Take a day off every week to spend time with loved one or make new friends. 

    The simple joy of just being present in the moment, with the combination of phytonutrient-dense foods, good sleep and less electronic time can be tremendously healing and uplifting to you and those around you.

Dr. Bhandari M.D. and the Advanced Health Team Are Here to Support Your Health

Our expert team of integrative holistic practitioners work with patients suffering from chronic health concerns.  We help our patients reverse disease by better understanding how the body optimally functions and providing personalized treatment plans. To learn more and book an appointment, contact Advanced Health or call 1-415-506-9393.

Payal Bhandari M.D. Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is one of U.S.'s top leading integrative functional medical physicians and the founder of San Francisco' top ranked medical center, SF Advanced Health. Her well-experienced holistic healthcare team collaborates together to deliver whole-person personalized care and combines the best in Western and Eastern medicine. By being an expert of cell function, Dr. Bhandari defines the root cause of illness and is able to subside any disease within weeks to months. She specializes in cancer prevention and reversal, digestive & autoimmune disorders. Dr. Bhandari received her Bachelor of Arts degree in biology in 1997 and Doctor of Medicine degree in 2001 from West Virginia University. She the completed her Family Medicine residency in 2004 from the University of Massachusetts and joined a family medicine practice in 2005 which was eventually nationally recognized as San Francisco’s 1st patient-centered medical home. To learn more, go to

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