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Can Food Boost Energy and Mood?

Though it’s too soon to say, "An apple a day keeps the doldrums away," researchers are studying the links between what we eat and how we feel. There is evidence that changing your diet can change your metabolism and brain chemistry, ultimately affecting your energy level and mood.

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Getting Started

Foods can boost energy by supplying calories, by pushing your body to burn calories more efficiently, and, in some cases, by delivering caffeine. For a better mood, the best foods are those that help keep your blood sugar steady and trigger feel-good brain chemicals. Keep clicking to learn which foods and drinks do that.

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dark chocolate
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Smart Carbs

Carbs may be the foe of fad diets, but they’re vital for boosting energy and mood. They are the body's preferred source of fuel, plus they raise levels of the feel-good chemical, serotonin. The key is to avoid sweets, which cause blood sugar to spike and plummet, making you feel tired and moody. Instead, pick whole grains like whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and cereal. Your body absorbs whole grains more slowly, keeping your blood sugar and energy levels stable.

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Cashews, Almonds, and Hazelnuts

These nuts are rich in protein and magnesium, a mineral that plays a key role in converting sugar into energy. Being low on magnesium can drain your energy. Good sources of magnesium include whole grains, particularly bran cereals, and some fish, including halibut.

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Bowl of brazil nuts
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Brazil Nuts

Add Brazil nuts to the mix for selenium, a mineral that may be a natural mood booster. Studies have linked low selenium to poorer moods. Smaller amounts of selenium are also found in meats, seafood, beans, and whole grains. Don't overdo it: Too much selenium is harmful.

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Lean Meats

Lean pork, lean beef, skinless chicken, and turkey are sources of protein that include the amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosine boosts levels of two brain chemicals (dopamine and norepinephrine) that can help you feel more alert and focused. Meats also contain vitamin B-12, which may help ease insomnia and depression.

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Salmon

Fatty fish, such as salmon, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may protect against depression and be good for heart health. Besides fish, sources of omega-3 include nuts and leafy, dark green vegetables.

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Leafy Greens

Folate is another nutrient that may lower the risk of depression. Find it in leafy green vegetables (such as spinach and romaine lettuce), legumes, enriched grains, nuts, and citrus fruits.

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Various, colorful dried beans
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Fiber

Fiber helps keep your energy steady throughout the day. Many people don't get enough fiber. You can fix that by eating more beans, whole fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

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Water

Staying hydrated can help you avoid getting tired. Some studies suggest even mild dehydration can slow your metabolism and sap your energy. The solution is simple -- drink plenty of water or other unsweetened beverages throughout the day. 

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Colorful variety of fresh fruits
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Fresh Produce

Another way to stay hydrated and energized is to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, which are naturally full of water. Snack on apple wedges or celery, for example. Other hydrating foods include soup, oatmeal and pasta, which sop up their cooking water.

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Coffee beans in mug
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Coffee

Coffee is one of the world's most popular pick-me-ups, and it works -- at least in the short-term. Caffeine steps up the body's metabolism, temporarily improving mental focus and energy. Frequent mini-servings will keep you alert and focused longer than one large dose. Just beware of drinking so much coffee that you can't sleep at night -- losing sleep won't help your energy!

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Tea

You can also get caffeine from tea. Studies show that it may improve alertness, reaction time, and memory. And having a cup of tea is a time-honored tradition, which may take the edge off your stress.

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Dark Chocolate

Chocoholics, good news: A little bit of dark chocolate can boost your energy and mood. That's because of the caffeine in chocolate, along with another stimulant called theobromine.

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Breakfast

Breakfast is a gold mine if you want more energy. Studies show that people who eat breakfast every morning also have a better mood throughout the day. The best breakfasts deliver plenty of fiber and nutrients through whole-grain carbs, good fats, and some type of lean protein. And of course, they taste good!

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Frequent Meals

Here's another way to keep your energy, mood, and blood sugar steady: Eat small meals and snacks every three to four hours, rather than a few large meals. Some options: peanut butter on whole-grain crackers, half a turkey sandwich with salad, or whole-grain cereal with milk.

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Energy Supplements

Examples include kola nut, yerba mate, green tea extract, and guarana supplements. They may give you a temporary boost, but the effect is probably not much different than drinking coffee, since many energy supplements feature caffeine or similar compounds. Energy supplements are not recommended.

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Energy Drinks and Gels

Most energy drinks and gels give you simple carbohydrates -- in other words, sugar -- which the body can quickly convert into energy. This is a convenient way for high-intensity athletes to keep going, but less active people may not need them. Energy drinks are usually high in calories and low on nutrients.

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Exercise for Energy

Besides diet, exercise is another tried-and-true way to boost energy and mood. Even a single 15-minute walk can be energizing, and if you're more active, you'll get more benefits. Studies show that regular exercise may help ease depression and trigger other changes in your body that give you more energy all day long.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 10/18/2018 Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on October 18, 2018

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REFERENCES

WebMD Feature from Prevention magazine: "Eat for All-Day Energy."
WebMD Feature: "Top 10 Ways to Boost Your Energy."
WebMD Feature: "How Food Affects Your Moods."
WebMD Medical Reference: "Diet for Depression."
WebMD Feature: "Foods that Boost Mood and Fight Holiday Weight Gain."
WebMD Feature: "Energy Boosters: Can Supplements and Vitamins Help?"
WebMD Health News: "Energy Foods Fuel Busy Lives."
WebMD Feature: "Exercise for Energy: Workouts that Work."

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on October 18, 2018

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.