The Best Mood Boosting Supplements & Foods That Everyone Can Afford

boost mood naturally

Good moods are as much a product of the body as they are of the mind. That is because the brain requires specific nutrients to produce the neurotransmitters that regulate mood. If those nutrients are lacking, as many of them are in the Standard American Diet, the risk of developing depressive symptoms increases significantly. Fortunately, however, there's no need to splash out on exotic or expensive supplements to feel good. Research shows that common foods, vitamins, and minerals can help prevent low moods. Though they can't replace medication and shouldn't be taken in the absence of professional medical advice, the following offer a practical and affordable way to help keep the blues at bay.

Here are four affordable mood-enhancing foods and supplements backed by scientific research.

Vitamin D3: the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D3, the "sunshine" vitamin, has made it to the top of this list for two main reasons. Over a billion people worldwide have a D-deficiency (Hollick & Chen, 2008), and studies have consistently found a correlation between low levels of vitamin D in the blood and symptoms of depression (Shi et al., 2017).  

The mechanisms underlying the latter finding are not fully understood, however. One possible explanation is that vitamin D, which is a hormone the body produces in response to sunlight, activates genes that release dopamine and serotonin in the brain. A deficiency in this hormone would, therefore, impair the brain's ability to regulate these neurotransmitters and, consequently, mood. On the other hand, low levels of vitamin D could be an effect of depressive symptoms rather than the cause, as depressed people typically spend less time outdoors. Finally, it's possible that both scenarios contribute more or less to the observed link. For example, a deficiency in D could lead to depressive symptoms subsequently exacerbated when the depressed individual decides to spend less time outdoors in response to his or her symptoms.

Whatever the reasons for the observed association, vitamin D is still a good choice of supplement considering its possible anti-depressant effects, widespread availability, low cost and the general rate of deficiency in the population. Hopefully, future research will shed further light on the role this vitamin plays as a risk factor for depression.

Tip: Experts recommend 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day for those who are deficient (Nair & Maseeh, 2012). Always consult your doctor if you suspect you have low levels of D3, as self-diagnosing vitamin deficiencies can be dangerous.

Fish & Omega 3's

A growing body of evidence suggests that a diet rich in oily fish, a plentiful source of omega-3 fatty acids, may reduce your risk of developing depression. The proof of this comes from cross-national surveys and controlled clinical trials. Concerning the former, a clear association between high levels of fish consumption and a reduced risk of depression has been found in studies of people in several European countries (Li et al., 2016). Controlled trials indicate, however, that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) may help ameliorate symptoms of depression (Appleton et al., 2010; Freeman et al., 2006; Lin et al., 2007; Martins et al., 2012; Sublette et al., 2011). It's certainly plausible, then, that regularly eating fish can help prevent depression in healthy adults, which is why fish is the second entrant on this list of mood-boosting foods and supplements.

Tip: Eat fish like salmon, shrimp, cod, and tuna two or three times a week to safely increase your intake of essential fatty acids, as these fish contain less mercury than other varieties. Alternatively, you can take fish oil to enhance your supplemental intake of omega-3s without adding extra portions of fish to your diet.

Chocolate, Everyone's Favorite

Although chocolate is more associated with indulgence and comfort-eating than anything else these days, its bona fide nutritional qualities have earned it a place on this list. An excellent source of flavonoids, the plant-based antioxidants linked to enhanced mood and cognitive functioning, chocolate has attracted attention from researchers in recent years as a potential mood-boosting superfood. A study by Pase et al. (2013), for example, found that eating small amounts of chocolate can increase feelings of calmness and contentedness. Previous meta-analytic reviews have concluded that there is indeed scientific evidence (albeit limited) to suggest that the sweet treat has anti-depressant properties (Scholey & Owen, 2013; Smith 2013).

Not all chocolate is created equal, however, as it must contain at least 70% cocoa to be beneficial. That is because only the cocoa solids contain the necessary concentrations of flavonoids needed to produce mood-enhancing effects, so the darker the chocolate, the better!

Tip: Most experts recommend eating 1.5 to 2 ounces of dark chocolate (70% to 80% cocoa) every day to experience its mood-boosting benefits.


While the idea of taking a multivitamin (MV) to enhance mood sounds far-fetched, these humble supplements may be able to do more than help you meet your RDA considering that studies have found links between deficiencies in B-vitamins and minerals and specific mood disorders (Sarris et al., 2015). Because most MVs contain the vitamins and minerals linked to impaired mental health outcomes, it makes sense (in theory) that taking these supplements can help prevent depressive symptoms and perhaps even enhance positive moods.

Beyond the theoretical, however, a recent review of clinical trials reported that MV use improves aspects of mood in healthy adults (Long & Benton, 2013), so empirical evidence now supports the hypothesized benefits of taking these daily vitamin pills. Although more evidence is needed before MVs can reach the status of the other research-backed items discussed in this article, they have made it onto the list because of their availability, affordability, and under-explored potential. Hopefully, additional research will soon shed more light on the mood-boosting effects of these supplements.

Tip: The best MVs for boosting mood should contain the complete range of B vitamins and a wide selection of minerals (mainly calcium, iodine, magnesium, selenium, and zinc).


Consumed responsibly and in moderation, vitamin D, fish, chocolate, and multivitamins are affordable foods and supplements that healthy adults can take to enhance mood and well-being.  Please seek professional medical advice if you are experiencing low moods or other depressive symptoms, and always consult your doctor before making significant changes to your diet or supplemental intake.

References cited:

Appleton, K. M., Rogers, P. J., & Ness, A. R. (2010). Updated systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of n− 3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids on depressed mood. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 91(3), 757-770.
Freeman, M. P., Hibbeln, J. R., Wisner, K. L., Davis, J. M., Mischoulon, D., Peet, M., ... & Stoll, A. L. (2006). Omega-3 fatty acids: evidence basis for treatment and future research in psychiatry. Journal of Clinical psychiatry, 67(12), 1954.
Hollick, M. F., & Chen, T. C. (2008). Vitamin D deficiency a worldwide problem with health consequences. Am J Clin Nutr, 87(4), 1080S-6S.
Li, F., Liu, X., & Zhang, D. (2016). Fish consumption and risk of depression: a meta-analysis. J Epidemiol Community Health, 70(3), 299-304.
Lin, P. Y., & Su, K. P. (2007). A meta-analytic review of double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of antidepressant efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 68(7), 1056-1061.
Long, S. J., & Benton, D. (2013). Effects of vitamin and mineral supplementation on stress, mild psychiatric symptoms, and mood in nonclinical samples: a meta-analysis. Psychosomatic medicine, 75(2), 144-153.
Martins, J. G., Bentsen, H., & Puri, B.K. (2012). Eicosapentaenoic acid appears to be the key omega-3 fatty acid component associated with efficacy in major depressive disorder: a critique of Bloch and Hannestad and updated meta-analysis. Mol Psychiatry 17: 1144-1149, discussion 1163-1147.
Nair, R., & Maseeh, A. (2012). Vitamin D: The "sunshine" vitamin. Journal of pharmacology & pharmacotherapeutics, 3(2), 118.
Pase, M. P., Scholey, A. B., Pipingas, A., Kras, M., Nolidin, K., Gibbs, A., ... & Stough, C. (2013). Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of psychopharmacology, 27(5), 451-458.
Sarris, J., Logan, A. C., Akbaraly, T. N., Amminger, G. P., Balanzá-Martínez, V., Freeman, M. P., ... & Nanri, A. (2015). Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. The Lancet Psychiatry, 2(3), 271-274.
Scholey, A., & Owen, L. (2013). Effects of chocolate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review. Nutrition reviews, 71(10), 665-681.
Shi, H., Wang, B., & Xu, X. (2017). Antidepressant Effect of Vitamin D: A Literature Review. Neuropsychiatry, 7(4), 337-341.
Smith, D. F. (2013). Benefits of flavanol-rich cocoa-derived products for mental well-being: a review. Journal of Functional Foods, 5(1), 10-15.
Sublette, M. E., Ellis, S. P., Geant, A. L., & Mann, J. J. (2011). Meta-analysis: effects of eicosapentaenoic acid in clinical trials in depression. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 72(12), 1577.

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