10 Snacks That Improve Your Mood & Mind
Brierley Horton, M.S., RD is a dietitian nutritionist, content creator and strategist, and avid mental health advocate. She is co-host and co-creator of the Happy Eating podcast, which breaks down the connection between food and mental wellness.
Did you know that what you eat can directly affect your mind? Yes, really—the nutrients in your diet have the power to influence your focus, memory, and mood. The research on the connection between food and long-term brain health and mental wellness is growing. So, with that said, we pulled together 10 snacks that science suggests have the potential to help your mind and balance your mood.
Homemade Trail Mix: Sure, it sounds a tad un-original, but hear us out: when you build a trail mix with the right ingredients, it’s incredible brain fuel! We recommend almonds, dark chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, and raisins—all deliver healthy amounts of magnesium, which is key for mental wellness! In a review study published in 2021 in the journal Nutrients, researchers found that people who were merely low (not even deficient) in magnesium were at a higher risk of having depressive- and anxiety-like symptoms.
DIY Greek Yogurt Bark: To easily make your own, mix Cabot’s Plain Greek yogurt with a liquid sweetener of choice (we recommend maple syrup!) or a bit of peanut butter. Then, spread the mixture on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper; top with dehydrated berries, chia seeds, and/or mini chocolate chips. Freeze until frozen and then break into bite-sized pieces.
Greek yogurt is the key ingredient here because it delivers probiotics, and research suggests that probiotics have “small but significant effects” on depression and anxiety. More research is still needed, but this particular review study—published in 2019 in Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews—looked at the findings of 34 studies to come to this positive conclusion.
Green Goddess Salad: One of our most popular recipes, this simple salad is a delicious way to up your veggie intake—and eating more produce is key for mental health. People who eat more fruits and vegetables have been shown to have better mental health than people who slack on eating produce, according to a 2020 review study in Nutrients.
Mac & Cheese + Your Favorite Leafy Green: Start with the first few steps of your favorite homemade mac & cheese recipe, and stir your favorite leafy green into the water in the final minute of cooking the pasta. Kale, spinach, and Swiss chard are a few of our recommendations. Next, drain the leafy greens and pasta together and prepare the rest of the mac and cheese as you normally would. Adding leafy greens to your macaroni and cheese is an easy way to up your veggie intake, which you now know supports your mental wellness. But also, in that same 2020 study in Nutrients, researchers also found that people who ate more leafy greens had better moods, more life satisfaction and optimism, and fewer depressive symptoms. Don't have time to make it from scratch? Try Cabot's boxed mac and cheese.
Berry Smoothie Bowl with Yogurt: Literally, every ingredient in here—from the probiotic-rich yogurt to the berries, magnesium-filled almonds, and even the omega-3s in the chia seeds—is fuel for your brain health! Let’s focus on the berries, though: when study participants drank a smoothie made with a mix of berries, their attention, memory, and so-called flexible thinking improved over the following 6 hours compared to participants who drank a placebo, per a study published in 2019 in Nutrients.
Cabot’s Greek Yogurt Tzatziki with Red Bell Peppers & Carrot Sticks: The compounds that give red bell peppers and orange carrots their brilliant hues are also good for your brain health! The compounds are called carotenoids and research shows they can help protect against age-related brain decline. Carotenoids also have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which is good for mental wellness.
Pair the raw vegetable slices with Tzatziki for a hit of good-for-you probiotics, yes, but also because it’s a delicious and healthy, creamy dip.
Cabot Cottage Cheese + Salsa: Top a serving or two of Cabot’s cottage cheese with your favorite salsa, or simply chop up a handful of tomatoes and season with salt, pepper, and olive oil.
Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene. And in studies of people with low and high lycopene levels, low levels have been linked with poor cognitive performance, while high levels have been associated with better test scores, per a 2019 study in The Journal of Nutritional Sciences.
Yogurt Toast: For the biggest benefit, make this delicious Cabot recipe with whole wheat bread! It and eggs both deliver tryptophan, and tryptophan helps your body make serotonin—that feel-good compound that helps regulate your mood.
Apple, Cheddar & Almond Snack Mix: Use our recipe to guide you, or get creative and improvise and use any apple (or pears!), almond butter, and your favorite Cabot cheese.
Whatever you do, don’t skip the cheese! New research, published in PLoS One in December 2022, showed that middle and high school students who regularly ate dairy foods had more stress resilience than their classmates who weren’t regular dairy consumers.
Popcorn: Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain? That’s a food group most of us need more of in our diet, and also eating foods that are low on the glycemic index (which whole grains are) may improve your attention and memory, according to one study. And other research has shown that eating a high-glycemic-index diet could raise your risk of depressive symptoms and fatigue.A quick disclaimer: while the foods we talk about in this article have been associated with fewer depression symptoms and/or overall improved mental wellness and brain function, eating these foods won’t necessarily eliminate mental health conditions or symptoms. If you have a mental health condition or are struggling, it’s important to work with a health professional as your first line of defense.