The best feel-good foods by age group

Have you ever woken up feeling irritable or down for no apparent reason?

Sometimes it seems like these negative moods strike at random.

But the truth is, when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, it may be because you’ve been putting the wrong food on your plate…

Scientists are learning more and more about which foods set you up for a happy, positive mood — and which ones leave you feeling depressed, anxious and irritable.

Fast food, for example, is tied to an increased risk of depression in many, many studies.

So what should you eat to feel good?

Well, research has shown that the answer varies depending on your age. The foods that make you feel good when you’re young, aren’t the same ones that do the trick once you get older…

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Feel-good foods for your age group

When researchers from Binghamton University, State University of New York conducted an anonymous internet survey about diet and mood it was an eye-opener…

They asked participants to complete a Food-Mood Questionnaire that closely examined their intake of foods that are known to have a powerful effect on brain chemistry and biology. And here’s what they found…

People between the ages of 18 and 29 feel better when they eat foods that increase the production of mood-boosting brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. The food that has the strongest impact on these brain chemicals is meat (white or red).

Exercise also has a powerful effect on serotonin and dopamine, which explains why young adults who ate meat less than three times per week and exercised less than three times per week were more likely to feel major mental distress. They just weren’t building up a large enough supply of these critical brain chemicals.

But for people past 30, meat isn’t the most important mood-booster on the menu. Eating a steak won’t do the trick anymore, but there are two dietary choices you can make to promote a positive mood:

  1. Eat more antioxidants.
  2. Eat less of the foods that trigger the “fight or flight” response and lead to adrenal fatigue.

Researchers found that people over 30 who followed these habits felt happier overall. Why?

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According to Lina Begdache, assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University, the “mature adult mood seems to be more sensitive to regular consumption of sources of antioxidants and abstinence of food that inappropriately activates the innate fight-or-flight response (commonly known as the stress response).”

“With aging, there is an increase in free radical formation (oxidants), so our need for antioxidants increases. Free radicals cause disturbances in the brain, which increases the risk for mental distress. Also, our ability to regulate stress decreases, so if we consume food that activates the stress response (such as coffee and too many carbohydrates), we are more likely to experience mental distress.”

And when it comes to foods that trigger the “fight or flight” response, it’s pretty obvious why those would make your mood take a dive. They encourage your body to produce excessive amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, which makes you feel jittery and irritable. Some of the worst offenders are processed, fried and chargrilled foods that are high in advanced glycation endproducts which promote oxidation and inflammation.

Here are your happy foods…

Ready to make food choices that keep you feeling good?

Well, if you’re 29 or younger, that’s easy enough — getting meat in your diet a few times a week should help. Just make sure to steer clear of processed meats and lunch meats, and eat less read meat.

If you’re 30 or older, it’s time to up your antioxidant intake. You can do that be eating more antioxidant-rich foods like:

  • Berries
  • Dark chocolate (Here are 7 reasons to eat more!)
  • Green tea
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Barley
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Pecans
  • Artichokes
  • Kale
  • Olives
  • Beets
  • Plums
  • Apricots
  • Clove
  • Peppermint
  • Sage
  • Cinnamon
  • Oregano
  • Thyme

You’ll also want to avoid those “fight or flight” triggering foods, so reduce or cut out foods like refined carbs, sweets, processed foods, alcohol and caffeine. And don’t forget to eat breakfast every day, because skipping that can activate the stress response in your body too.

If you follow these simple tips, you should be well on your way to a more balanced mood…and much happier mornings.

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Your mood depends on the food you eat, and what you should eat changes as you get older —

Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and