It’s 5 p.m., time for Asr (afternoon) prayer, and you just finished a long day at work. Tired? Cranky? Don’t reach for that bag of halal gummy bears or cup of Joe just yet. With candy or coffee, you’ll only get 15 minutes of energy before you crash and are left without energy to complete your evening prayers. Instead, go for foods like seeds and nuts that give you long-lasting, gradual boosts of energy and put you in a good mood. How do they do that? They contain tyrosine, an amino acid which is used to produce neurotransmitters like mood-booster serotonin and motivating dopamine. Foods high in sugar, fat, salt, and caffeine also increase dopamine levels, but to a temporary and insatiable degree that causes overeating and fatigue.

The food you eat directly regulates your mood because it activates the neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, that are responsible for your feelings and emotions. Regularly eating tyrosine-rich foods keeps you happy and stress-free all day long. Ideal sources are plant-based protein sources like seeds (butternut squash, sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin), beans, bananas, avocados, and eggs. Interestingly, Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) enjoyed eating squash, or gourd (Bukhari). (Starchy carbohydrates also provide some tyrosine, but they can promote overeating which can lead to obesity and diabetes.)

Other foods with positive effects on your brain are those containing B vitamins (thiamine, folic acid, and vitamin B12) and omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Eating foods rich in B vitamins, including chickpeas, lentils, nuts, whole grains, asparagus, and spinach, is a sure way to feel energized on a consistent basis. In fact, many people use vitamin B12 sprays during the day to give them a natural, gradual source of energy. Once the dopamine and serotonin are in your brain, they need a clear path to travel. That’s where omega-3 fatty acids come in. They are a necessary part of the cells that carry neurotransmitters throughout the body. A lack of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids in the diet directly leads to decreased brain function and depression. Omega-3 fatty acids, which should be part of your regular diet, are found in the following foods: walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and wild-caught salmon and tuna.

We all know the importance of drinking water to prevent dehydration, but did you know that without enough water, the brain shrinks and its function declines? Studies show that not drinking enough water causes sleepiness, moodiness, and poor cognitive performance and memory. However, upon drinking a glass of cold water, study participants became alert and happy. “Drink water separately from meals to properly digest,” says world-renowned nutrition and fitness expert Zainab Ismail. Juices and sodas are dangerous alternatives because the sugar and salt in them alarmingly shrink brain cells, causing dehydration and moodiness, according to Dr. Michael Greger of

It’s important to note that gut function also contributes to mood, as it relays messages of satiety to the brain via the vagus nerve, provided by nutrients. That’s why probiotics, healthy gut bacteria, improve our mood and immunity. Sources include supplements like IFANCA halal-certified 4Life Probiotics and Forever Active Probiotics, and foods like kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut.

For a good night’s sleep eat foods high in melatonin: tart cherries, orange bell peppers, walnuts, flaxseeds, goji berries, and fenugreek. These natural aids become more valuable with age, as melatonin, the hormone that controls the sleep cycle, decreases.

So what’s so bad about the gummy bears that you’ve now tossed in the garbage and the coffee you drained down the sink? Although stimulants like sugar, saturated fat, salt, and caffeine increase dopamine production in your brain, their effect is similar to that of drugs rather than food. They overstimulate reward regions in the brain and promote overeating, according to Appetite, an international research journal specializing in cultural, social, psychological, sensory, and physiological influences on the selection and intake of foods and drinks. Their effect is detrimental because they cause such a heightened dopamine response that your brain gets used to the high levels of dopamine that only junk food provides. That is why when you try not to eat these foods for a while, you feel withdrawal symptoms like moodiness and fatigue. Sugary items also cause fatigue and moodiness because of imbalances in your blood sugar levels, when high levels of insulin quickly remove the sugar from your system. Such high levels of insulin are harmful as well, leading to high cholesterol levels, big appetite, weight gain, depression, etc. Foods high in saturated fats like chips, fries, and burgers lower the desire and ability to exercise by impairing receptor signaling, while foods with polyunsaturated (“good”) fats improve energy signals in the brain.

The types of sugar, salt, and fat in your diet are imperative to ensuring a positive and productive mood. Make sure to use natural sources of sugar like honey and applesauce, small amounts of unprocessed salt (like Himalayan), and polyunsaturated sources of fat like olive oil, chia seeds, and flaxseed.

Conversely, your mood affects your food choice and intake. Depressed, tired, or acutely stressed people reach for “junk” food more often than happy people, according to and Front Psychology. The palatability and mere availability and presence of junk food overrides your desire to eat healthy, according to Appetite, so keep sugary snacks and sodas out of your house if you know you are susceptible. Monitor your sleep patterns, activity levels, and optimism so that you don’t reach a negative cycle. Finally, recognize if you are self-treating issues with food, and instead look for more effective tools like counseling.

By affecting your mood, food choices impact your Islamic practice as well. Adab, or good manners, are emphasized in Islam, and it can be difficult to treat others well if you’re not in a good mood. Likewise, you need long lasting energy and rest to perform Islamic practices like Fajr (dawn) prayers, fasting in the month of Ramadan, and performing Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). God instructs us to pray for blessings before and after eating, indicating the significance food has on our bodies and lives. When we eat foods recommended to us, especially “Prophetic foods,” they can be “healing in emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual” ways, says Ismail.

So for a stress-free, productive day at work, school, and the masjid (mosque), you now know which foods to reach for and which to shun. You know what to do to keep yourself healthy and happy. The next time you are ready to eat and someone asks you, “What are you in the mood for?” take the question literally.

Shireen Hakim writes for Halal Consumer and Amanah Fitness. She has been featured on Buzzfeed Health and has appeared on Therapy Cable’s online show “Muslim Mental Health.” Connect with Shireen for nutrition coaching on Facebook @GlutenFreeWriterRD.