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21 Instant Pick Me Up Foods

Have you been feeling down in the dumps lately? Don’t, because life is too short to be miserable all the time. Sing the song Don’t Worry, Be Happy instead and cheer up. But of course, things are easier said than done and one simply can’t help feeling terrible at times. It could be a barraging from your boss or you’re angry with yourself from scrapping the paint off your bumper while manoeuvring out of a spot.

Whatever it is, you simply need to eat if you need an instant pick-me-up. Yes, eat! Believe it or not, food can be your best friends on ‘emo’ days. To lift your mood back to your happy-go-lucky self, here are 21 instant pick-me up foods that you can enjoy to almost instantaneously turn your mood around.

Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts are very rich in selenium, which low levels of can lead to tiredness, depression and anxiety. Research has shown that eating just three Brazil nuts a day for a few times a week can amazingly boost your energy and reduce bouts of anxiety, irritability and depression. You’ll definitely feel better if you’re less cranky and fatigued! Selenium is also an antioxidant, so snacking on Brazil nuts help to shoo cancer away too.

Serving suggestion: Eat three Brazil nuts as a mid-morning snack with a banana or sprinkle some chopped Brazil nuts on salads or in a stir-fry. If you’re simply too lazy to do any of these, just munch on them as you watch TV!


Oats are an effective mood booster because they have a low glycaemic index (GI). The glycaemic index is used to rate how well a food item can raise blood sugar; the sweeter the food is, the higher its glycaemic index. Rapid fluctuations of blood sugar can cause changes in mood and energy levels. As we all know that oats are far from being sweet, it doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes but instead slowly releases energy into your bloodstream which in turn will help to keep blood sugar level and your mood in check.

Serving suggestion: It is a blessing that this health food is so versatile. If you have a sweet tooth, you can have a bowl of oats for breakfast with a spoonful of honey, berries, raisins or banana chunks. You can also mix it with your Milo or Nestum drink. Those who like it savoury can stir in some Marmite or soy sauce; your oats have now turned into a meal of ‘porridge’!


Sardines are high in the omega-3 fatty acids, which make up a large percentage of your brain tissue. According to Dr Eva Cyhlarova, head of research at the Mental Health Foundation, about 60% of the dry weight of the brain consists of fat, with about 30% of that fat being in the form of omega-3 acids. As such, a diet high in omega-3 lead to more flexible brain cells, keeps your brain healthy, improves your mood and makes your brain’s messaging chemicals-neurotransmitters work more effectively.

Serving suggestion: Try sardines on wheat-free bread for breakfast or lunch, or eat them as a dish to go with your rice.


Bananas contain carbohydrate, iron, phosphorus, potassium, fibre and vitamins A, B6 and C. Bananas are also rich in tryptophan, an amino acid excellent for treating depression. Researchers from the University of British Columbia have found that patients who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood disorder experienced by some in winter, displayed less signs of being depressed when treated with tryptophan. Psychological Medicine and Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience reports in 1982 and 2000 respectively have also indicated that tryptophan improved depression and enhances the effect of other anti-depressants.

Not only that, tryptophan is also a great sleep aid as well as an effective treatment for premenstrual dysphoria, a premenstrual disorder brought upon by physical, emotional or mental instability.

Serving suggestion: Eat a banana as a mid-morning snack each day or slice some up and add them to your oats in the morning.

Chicken and turkey

Chicken and turkey breasts can increase your body’s level of tryptophan and tyrosine, another amino acid which can reduce symptoms of depression and avoid feeling the blues. Tyrosine does its job at keeping people happy by acting as a building block for dopamine, the pleasure hormone. Tyrosine also serves to regulate the levels of hormones in the body, which too little or too much of can cause mood swings.

Serving suggestion: While turkey might be a little difficult to locate at the market, chicken is a more common source of protein. There are so many ways of preparing a chicken dish that it is almost impossible to list – steamed, boiled, fried, curry, roasted, grilled and in soups and sandwiches.


Yoghurt is rich in vitamin D and calcium. It is well-known that calcium is vital for the teeth and bones but many don’t know that calcium is important for the release of neurotransmitters, the chemicals responsible for relaying messages between the cells in the nervous system. As such, the lack of calcium in the body can lead to changes in the mood and behaviour including depression, anxiety, irritability, insomnia and dysphoria, a mild form of depression. Prolonged deprivation of the mineral can also cause mania and severe depression. Therefore, by tucking into your favourite cup of yoghurt, you will be taking care of your mental well-being as well as protecting yourself from other health problems such as cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis.

Serving suggestion: Eat yoghurt for breakfast with berries sprinkled on top. Or simply pop into a yoghurt bar and have them at any time of the day as a snack!


Lentils are high in folate, the B vitamin important for well-being of the nervous system in the brain. Low levels of folate in the body are associated with depression, as shown by a team of researchers at Harvard University who found that 38% of depressed women suffer from folate deficiency. By consuming lentils and other food such as cereals, liver, beans and broccoli, you can feel cheered up besides boosting the level of iron in your blood.

Serving suggestion: Add lentils in homemade soups or stews. You could even make lentil curry.


Spinach is rich in vitamins B such as B12, B6, B3, as well as folate. This group of vitamins are responsible for producing brain chemicals that affect one’s mood. As such, pack as much spinach and other green leafy vegetables into your diet to drive the blues away.

Serving suggestion: Stir-fried spinach is a favourite vegetable dish in many households. Soups are great too; the spinach is boiled until they are tender such that the young and old can enjoy them too.

Dark chocolate

The darker the chocolate, the better it is for you. A small square of dark chocolate will make the brain release endorphins and boost serotonin levels. This explains why chocolates are known for being comfort food and that you’ve always reached out for chocolates when you are down. Studies have shown that chocolate eaters produced less stress-causing hormones and that their anxiety levels had even decreased after they have had some chocolate.

Serving suggestion: A small square after dinner will help boost your mood. Just a small square will do though!


Oysters are high in essential nutrients such as calcium, zinc and selenium. Oysters not only keep your hair healthy a`Serving suggestion: Many oyster lovers enjoy the molluscs raw with some lemon juice and Tabasco. However, if you’re queasy, you can always have the Malaysian favourite, oh chien (oyster omelette), at the hawker stall near you.

Green tea

Drinking green tea will keep your fluids level up and regulate your blood sugar levels, hence prevent you from feeling fatigued. A research study in Japan found that green tea extract could boost exercise levels by up to 24%.

Serving suggestion: Keep a flask of green tea at your desk for energy boosts throughout the day.


Everyone knows that coffee is great for waking up the sleepy. This fact is ascertained true by researchers at the Swinburne University of Technology (SUT) in Melbourne, Australia. They found that coffee keeps drivers alert for a longer period of time on the road. Coffee lovers would rejoice at the acknowledgement that coffee is great for uplifting so that they can continue enjoying their cuppas (without guilt). However, be warned to not overdo it as you don’t want to rely on caffeine to keep you going.

Serving suggestion: A cup of coffee every morning and maybe one more at tea time – that’s it.


Edamame (boiled soybeans) is one of the superfoods for mood-boosting. They are rich in tryptophan which improves sleep and mood, and molybdenum which balance sugar levels and increases alertness and concentration. Edamame is also packed with folate, a natural mood booster which you would be familiar with by now. With the tryptophan-molybdenum-folate combo, edamame is bound to eradicate all depression, fatigue and mood swings.

Serving suggestion: These cute little green beans can be easily found at the snack store. They are crunchy and crispy, making a good healthy snack. So whenever you are craving for chips to chomp on while watching TV, go for edamame instead. You can also have edamame as an appetiser at Japanese restaurants and sushi bars.


Fruits are a good source of natural sugars to boost your energy, fighting away lethargy that can cause grumpiness and fidgeting. Fruits also have high water content and some even contain a variety of energy-boosting vitamins and minerals including vitamins B and C.

Serving suggestion: Fruits make great snacks or desserts. Try to eat avocado, kiwi, berries, melon or watermelon after or in between meals.


Beetroot provides you with energy-boosting nutrients such as nitrate, vitamin C, iron and magnesium. Researchers at the University of Exeter found that drinking the juice helped increase stamina and enable people to exercise for up to 16% longer.

Serving suggestion: Drink a glass of beetroot juice before you workout or after a meal.


Marmite, made of yeast extract, contains vitamin B12 and B6 which produces serotonin, the key to mood regulation. These vitamins keep your brain functions normal too.

Serving suggestion: Try applying a layer of Marmite on wholegrain toast or stir some into oats as suggested earlier. Marmite is vegan-friendly too, so everyone can enjoy them.


Salmon is loaded with heart-healthy and brain-friendly omega-3 fatty acids which balances blood sugar and increases insulin sensitivity. As mentioned previously, keeping blood sugar in check is vital for keeping emotions in check. Too much of it will lead to fluctuations in mood, so salmon is good for both perking you up and as an excellent source of protein.

Serving suggestion: Grilled salmon drizzled lightly with mayonnaise makes a good lunch.


Tomatoes help to improve blood circulation in the body by containing lycopene which helps to prevent the plague from forming in the arteries. With the improved blood circulation, more oxygen is carried to the organs to flush out the fatigue-causing lactic acid, hence reducing lethargy in the muscles. Lycopene is also a carotenoid which acts as an anti-cancer agent. Tomatoes are also rich in lysine, an amino acid which benefits health and well-being by producing antibodies, building tissues and improving concentration.

Serving suggestion: Have some cherry tomatoes as a snack or add tomato wedges to salads. You could even eat them just like that with some salt and pepper rubbed in.


Flaxseeds provide fibre which helps with stabilising your blood glucose levels, just like how salmon does. Fibre prevents spikes in blood sugar by slowing down the digestion of food. As such, there will be no sugar spikes which will lead to mood fluctuations. Fibre is so effective in maintaining blood sugar levels that diabetics are recommended to eat food high in fibre.

Serving suggestion: Salads would taste better if sprinkled with flaxseeds.


Cheese is another food high in tyrosine, the amino acid synonymous with good mood. You’d also know that cheese is an excellent source of calcium, the mineral needed for the release of message-carrying neurotransmitters, giving you even more reason to add cheese to your diet.

Serving suggestion: Add sliced cheese to your sandwich or spread some on whole-grain crackers as a snack.


The last but not least of the list is good ol’ faithful water. Being dehydrated will impair your mental and physical well-being. You’ve probably seen on TV how people who were stranded for days without water have started to hallucinate and experience paranoid. Those incidences are a little extreme to worry about but that pretty much sums up how important water is for our well-being.

Serving suggestion: Replace some of your tea and coffee at work with plain water. Keep a bottle of water at your desk and sip throughout the day, especially if you work in an air-conditioned office where the air can be dry and dehydrating. Fruit juices is a good substitute for water too.

As much as you want to feel good, remember that moderation is the key. So, don’t overindulge especially on the chocolates and coffee!

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