- News and Updates
- The First Craving
- Vicious Cycle
- The Downward Spiral
- Breaking the Cycle
- Things Keep Looking Up
- Up, Up, and Away!
- Good Mood Foods
- Start Now: Break the Bad Mood/ Bad Food Cycle
- You Are What You Eat: How Food Affects Your Mood
- Mood Food: Can What You Eat Affect Your Happiness?
- How Food Affects Your Mood
- How food affects your mood
News and Updates
By Amy Magill on March 13, 2018
It is well known that unhealthy eating patterns can cause mood swings. Blood sugar fluctuations and nutritional imbalances are often to blame. Without a steady source of fuel from the foods we eat, our mind and bodies don’t function well. Here’s how some unhealthy eating habits can alter your mood and emotional well-being:
- Skipping meals. Missing a meal, especially breakfast, can lead to low blood sugar. This will likely leave you feeling weak and tired.
- Cutting out entire food groups. If you reduce the variety of foods in your diet, it can be more difficult to get all the essential nutrients you need. Low levels of zinc, iron, B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids are associated with worsening mood and decreased energy.
- Eating too many refined carbohydrates. High intakes of unhealthy, processed carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries, cause blood sugars to rise and fall rapidly. This can lead to low energy and irritability.
Beyond mood and general well-being, the role of diet and nutrition on mental health is very complex and has yet to be fully understood. However, research linking the two is growing at a rapid rate. In recent years, evidence shows that food can contribute to the development, prevention, and management of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety disorders.
Researchers are also taking a closer look at why diet may influence mental health. Studies are exploring diet’s effects on gut microbiota (organisms in the intestinal tract), neuroplasticity (brain’s ability to modify structure, wiring and function), oxidative stress (cellular damage) and chronic inflammation.
While we still have much to learn about the effects of dietary patterns on mental health issues, evidence suggests that eating a healthy diet can have a protective effect. In fact, many believe that good nutrition is as important to mental health as it is to physical health. Here are some positive changes you can make to improve your eating to support your mental health:
- Eat at set intervals throughout the day
- Choose less refined sugars and eat more whole grains
- Include protein at each meal
- Eat a variety of foods
- Include omega-3 rich foods, like oily fish, in your diet
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water
- Get regular exercise
Following a healthy eating plan can keep you energized and help you to feel your best. While good nutrition is an important component of your emotional well-being, it is not a substitute for proper medical care and treatment. If you have concerns about your mental health, talk to your health care provider.
Amy Magill, MA, RD, LDN enjoys providing tips on how manage your moods as well as your food choices as Manager of Clinical Programs and nutrition writer for Walgreens. Find a variety of vitamins at Walgreens.com to supplement a nutritious diet.
Although it is intended to be accurate, neither Walgreen Co., its subsidiaries or affiliates, nor any other party assumes for loss or damage due to reliance on this material. Walgreens does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned in the article. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk.
“Eat this, you’ll feel better.”
Many of us have heard this or even offered this advice, as most people have had some direct experience of the link between mood and food.
When my son was a toddler, his mood was directly, conspicuously related to the contents of his stomach. My husband and I quickly learned that his agreeableness could be more or less ensured with the timely administration of a granola bar.
We never went anywhere without a granola bar.
New evidence from the burgeoning field of nutritional psychiatry is helping to make sense of such anecdotal experiences and could expand the horizons of psychiatric research, theory and practice in important ways.
Investigations of the relationship between nutrition and aspects of brain function relevant to mental health date back to the 1970s, and nutritionists working in complementary and alternative medicine have long recognized the connection.
But this area of research has recently gained new momentum within psychiatry. In the last five years, numerous observational research—as well as intervention and animal studies—have confirmed the importance of dietary content in diverse populations around the world.
In my work as a medical anthropologist who studies the interactions between mental and physical health, I have observed the ways that psychological problems are often closely linked to the state of our bodies.
New findings from nutritional psychiatry research suggest that our emotional state may be closely related to the content of the foods we eat, providing additional evidence of the links between mind and body.
A new study by researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that consumption of meats cured with nitrates (such as hot dogs and salami) may contribute to episodes of mania. While other factors also contribute to clinical levels of mania, this study suggests that people who eat large amounts of such meats may experience important psychological and behavioral effects.
Other studies have shown that diets high in fruits, vegetables, protein and good fats may help prevent—and even cure—depression. Conversely, diets high in saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and processed foods are associated with greater risk for depression.
Perhaps most potentially transformative among these findings is evidence that diet affects mental health in children, including risk for depression and anxiety, but also attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Studies show an association between dietary quality and ADHD in children. There is also evidence that a lack of certain nutrients may contribute to the disorder. So while there is not sufficient evidence to back up the popular notion that sugar causes hyperactivity, an overabundance of processed foods and refined carbohydrates (including refined sugar) may actually increase the risk of ADHD symptoms.
In principle, findings about the links between diet and ADHD could put more nonpharmaceutical interventions into the mix for disorders like ADHD, allowing parents a means to help regulate child emotional well-being and behavior outside the clinic.
This could represent an important new direction for psychiatry, which has been moving in an increasingly reductive direction in recent years, focusing almost exclusively on neurobiological causes and pharmaceutical treatment of mental disorders.
As a result, rates of psychopharmaceutical consumption are at an all-time high in the U.S . This includes startlingly high rates of psychoactive medication use among children, who are prescribed such drugs for a range of conditions, including stimulants for ADHD. As many as 4.5 percent of children in this country have been prescribed stimulants—so many that the practice has become normalized.
To be sure, nutritional psychiatry thus far also tends to reach for biological explanations. But the pathways implicated and under consideration are diverse and complex, including factors such as immune function and the microbiome-gut-brain pathway, among others.
Because food is inherently social and cultural—part of people’s environments, not something in their internal make-up—nutritional psychiatry will also have to engage with social and cultural factors in order to construct studies, make sense of findings and formulate recommendations for treatment and intervention.
Though the field is still emerging, its potential to help explain strong associations between poverty and mental health problems like depression and even schizophrenia, is exciting.
Nutrition may be one pathway through which poverty and marginalization work to undermine psychological well-being.
An important risk of such research is that rather than empowering parents to find nonpharmaceutical solutions for their children’s problems, findings could place an additional burden on families to regulate children, opening them up to blame for their children’s emotional and behavioral problems.
By far the greatest risk for such blame is on the most vulnerable people in our society—those for whom good nutrition is not a choice, and for whom multiple converging risk factors contribute to poor mental health.
As the science develops, research needs to be accompanied by political activism that demands government support for programs that fund nutrition education and programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP This program would be gutted in the proposed 2019 federal budget and would put healthy foods out of reach for many families.
With the right research and advocacy, perhaps we can harness the power of food to make us all feel better.
Have you ever felt hangry (hungry + angry)? Food and mood have an effect on one another. Understand how they interact so you can make good diet choices and avoid emotional or impulse eating.
Maybe it’s no coincidence that food and mood are just a letter apart; the two are peas in a pod. Think about it: you stick to a giant dinner salad on a “winning it” kind of day, and reach for a tub of ice cream after a bad date or a frustrating day at work.
It’s a delicate relationship, and it can spin out of control if you’re not careful. Let’s look at the food-mood relationship, and how to set it right again when it goes wrong.
The First Craving
Even if you maintain a healthy diet, it’s normal to desire high calorie, unhealthy treats when stressed or depressed.1 This makes sense: your body wants to fuel up for fight-or-flight mode when times get tough, but it can mistake the stress of fighting traffic on the freeway for fighting predators on the savanna. It’s no wonder a whole pizza, a plate piled with fried chicken, or a chocolate milkshake can seem like a cure for a downer of a day–there’s a reason it’s called “comfort food.”
A cheat meal every now and then can be okay, but if you use food to battle the blues, you’re going to lose the war. Research shows that foods full of fat and sugar only increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety, and that means you’ll only want more sugary junk to fight the new bad mood.2 This cycle is a feedback loop.
The Downward Spiral
If the consumption of fats and sugar goes on too long, your body will adapt to it, and think it’s normal. Then, when you try to start eating right, you could throw off your system and further increase anxiety and depression, trapping you in a cycle of bad eating to try to maintain happiness.2 It’s a terrible place to be.
Breaking the Cycle
There’s a way avoid the downward spiral; you’re not trapped. In the same way that unhealthy comfort food can keep you feeling low, healthy food can boost you up. In one study, the happiness that came from eating eight portions of fruits and vegetables a day was equal to the joy experienced by an unemployed person finding a job.3 That’s a huge lift in attitude!
Things Keep Looking Up
When you’re happier, your more likely to crave healthy foods. In one study, participants watching a happy movie opted for grapes, while those watching a sad movie reached for the popcorn.4 It’s easier to stay healthy when you stay happy. And don’t forget, eating healthier helps you stay happier.
Up, Up, and Away!
The best part? There are long term mental health effects to eating well. Research has shown that healthy choices, like the Mediterranean diet, full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, can help keep depression at bay,5 stabilizing mood and keeping you out of the danger zone where it feels like only a cupcake will save the day.
Good Mood Foods
There are some specific foods to keep an eye on to boost your mood:
- Fruits and Vegetables — An apple a day keeps the doctor away–and maybe the psychiatrist, too. As noted, fruits and veg have been linked to higher levels of happiness.3
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – This is the good stuff, found in foods like fish and nut oils. Low Omega-3 fatty acids have been correlated to depression and impulsivity. Getting plenty of this in your diet keeps your levels high, that’s a good thing.2
- Chocolate – As a special treat, chocolate may have properties that improve mood and even reduce tension. But remember, the key is to choose real chocolate (dark is best), and in moderation.2
Start Now: Break the Bad Mood/ Bad Food Cycle
Stock up on convenient and healthy snacks, like bananas or individual bags of nuts or carrots. Keep them within easy reach at home, work and in the car. Now, the next time a craving or bad mood hits, you can reach for some mood-boosting goodness.
Now eat right, so you’ll be in the mood to be healthy for good!
1Yau YHC, Potenza MN. Stress and Eating Behaviors. Minerva endocrinologica. 2013;38(3):255-267.
2Singh M. Mood, food, and obesity. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014;5:925. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00925.
3Mujcic R, J Oswald A. Evolution of Well-Being and Happiness After Increases in Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables. Am J Public Health. 2016 Aug;106(8):1504-10. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2016.303260.
4You Are What You Eat: How Food Affects Your Mood. Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. February 3, 2011. Accessed May 10, 2018.
5Jun S Lai, Sarah Hiles, Alessandra Bisquera, Alexis J Hure, Mark McEvoy, John Attia; A systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary patterns and depression in community-dwelling adults, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2014;99(1):181–197
You Are What You Eat: How Food Affects Your Mood
For thousands of years, people have believed that food could influence their health and well-being. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, once said: “Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food” (1). In medieval times, people started to take great interest in how certain foods affected their mood and temperament. Many medical culinary textbooks of the time described the relationship between food and mood. For example, quince, dates and elderberries were used as mood enhancers, lettuce and chicory as tranquilizers, and apples, pomegranates, beef and eggs as erotic stimulants (1). The past 80 years have seen immense progress in research, primarily short-term human trials and animal studies, showing how certain foods change brain structure, chemistry, and physiology thus affecting mood and performance. These studies suggest that foods directly influencing brain neurotransmitter systems have the greatest effects on mood, at least temporarily. In turn, mood can also influence our food choices and expectations on the effects of certain foods can influence our perception.
Chocolate is a powerful mood enhancer.
Complex Mood-Food Relationships
The relationship between food and mood in individuals is complex and depends “on the time of day, the type and macronutrient composition of food, the amount of food consumed, and the age and dietary history of the subject” (2).In one study by Spring et al. (1983), 184 adults either consumed a protein-rich or carbohydrate-rich meal. After two hours, their mood and performance were assessed (3). The effects of the meal differed for female and male subjects and for younger and older participants. For example, females reported greater sleepiness after a carbohydrate meal whereas males reported greater calmness. In addition, participants aged 40 years or older showed impairments on a test of sustained selective attention after a carbohydrate lunch. Furthermore, circadian rhythms influence our energy levels and performance throughout the day. “Early birds” feel most productive the first part of the day and their food choices become particularly important during lunch and throughout the afternoon. “Night Owls” feel most energetic later in the day and should pay attention to their breakfast choices as they can increase or decrease energy levels and influence cognitive functioning. For example, according to Michaud et al. (1991), if you are an evening person and you skip breakfast, your cognitive performance might be impaired. A large breakfast rich in protein, however, could improve your recall performance but might impair your concentration (4). This illustrates the complexity of relationships between food and mood and the need to find a healthy balance of food choices.
The Serotonin Theory: the effects of carbohydrates and protein
Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that the brain produces from tryptophan contained in foods such as “clams, oysters, escargots, octopus, squids, banana, pineapple, plum, nuts, milk, turkey”, spinach, and eggs (1). Functions of serotonin include the regulation of sleep, appetite, and impulse control. Increased serotonin levels are related to mood elevation. Wurtman and Wurtman (1989) developed a theory suggesting that a diet rich in carbohydrates can relieve depression and elevate mood in disorders such as carbohydrate craving obesity, pre-menstrual syndrome, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) (5). They theorized that increased patients’ carbohydrate intake associated with these disorders represented self-medicating attempts and that carbohydrates increased serotonin synthesis. A protein rich diet, in contrary, decreases brain serotonin levels.
The synthesis of serotonin in the brain is limited by the availability of its precursor tryptophan. The large amino acids such as tryptophan, valine, tyrosine, and leucine share the same transport carrier across the blood-brain barrier (1). The transport of tryptophan into the brain is “proportional to the ratio of its concentration to that of the sum total” of the other large amino acids since they compete for available transporters (1). Eating foods high in protein increases the amount of many amino acids in the blood but not of tryptophan, which is only found in low doses in dietary protein. Therefore, many large amino acids compete with a small amount of tryptophan for transport into the brain, meaning that less tryptophan is available for serotonin synthesis. Consuming foods high in carbohydrates can also change amino acid levels in the blood. As blood glucose levels rise, insulin is released and enables muscle tissues to take up most amino acids except for tryptophan, which is bound to albumin in the blood. As a result, the ratio of tryptophan relative to other amino acids in the blood increases, which enables tryptophan to bind to transporters, enter the brain in large amounts, and stimulate serotonin synthesis (5).
The potential of increased carbohydrate intake to treat depression, pre-menstrual syndrome and SAD remains small, however. Benton and Donohoe (1999) found that only a protein content of less than 2 percent of a meal favored the rise in serotonin levels. Foods high in carbohydrates such as bread and potatoes contain 15 percent and 10 percent of calories, respectively, that come from protein thereby undermining the effects of carbohydrates on serotonin levels (5).
In addition, “carbohydrate craving” is not an accurate description to describe the craving for foods such as chocolate, ice cream, and other sweets. Although people might think that these foods are high in carbohydrates because of their sweet taste, most of the calories come from fat and contain enough protein to undermine any effect of carbohydrates on serotonin levels (6). Rather, taste preferences for sweets seem already present at birth. For example, the facial expressions of newborns indicate a positive response to sweet stimuli and a negative response to bitter stimuli (7). The innate preference for sweet-tasting foods might have adaptive value since bitter tastes could indicate the presence of toxins and sweetness signals a source of energy in the form of carbohydrates.
The effects of chocolate
Chocolate has a strong effect on mood, generally increasing pleasant feelings and reducing tension. Nevertheless, some women, especially those trying to lose weight, experience guilt after eating chocolate (8).
Many people consume chocolate when they are in negative moods such as boredom, anger, depression and tiredness, experience stress, or are in a particularly happy mood. Furthermore, many women label themselves as “chocoholics,” which led researchers to examine the effects of psychoactive substances in chocolate that potentially could create a drug-like addiction (6). Chocolate contains a number of potentially psychoactive chemicals such as anandamines which stimulate the brain in the same way as cannabis does, tyramine and phenylethylamine which have similar effects as amphetamine, and theobromine and caffeine which act as stimulants (6). Nevertheless, these substances are present in chocolate in very low concentrations. For example, 2 to 3g of phenylethylamine are needed to induce an antidepressant effect, but a 50g chocolate bar only contains a third of a milligram (6). In 1994, Michener and Rozin conducted an important experiment, which showed that the sensory factors associated with the consumption of chocolate produce the chocolate cravings rather than psychoactive substances. Participants were supplied with boxes that contained either milk chocolate, white chocolate, cocoa powder capsules or white chocolate with cocoa and instructed to eat the contents of one box when they experienced a craving for chocolate. If the chemicals in chocolate produced the craving, the intake of pure cocoa would satisfy it. Interestingly, only milk chocolate could alleviate the desire for chocolate. White chocolate was not as effective and adding cocoa to white chocolate did not alter the results. Cocoa powder could not satisfy the craving at all. The unique taste and feel of chocolate in the mouth is responsible for the chocolate craving (8). Therefore, chocolate can serve as a powerful mood enhancer.
Caffeine: a psychoactive drug
Caffeine, mostly consumed in the form of coffee and tea, has stimulant effects enhancing alertness, vigilance, and reaction time but also increases anxiety in susceptible individuals. It is the most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world with an estimated global consumption of 120,000 tonnes per year (7). Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in the brain and can relieve headaches, drowsiness and fatigue. Short-term caffeine deprivation in regular users can lead to withdrawal symptoms (7).
Personality might determine caffeine use. For example, evening people who have difficulty getting up in the morning can improve their alertness and energy levels through caffeine. Contrarily, caffeine can cause unpleasant effects in people who have high levels of anxiety.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Fish oil pills are sold as Omega-3 fatty acid supplements
Omega-3 fatty acids can influence mood, behavior and personality. Low blood levels of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are associated with depression, pessimism and impulsivity, according to a study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (9). In addition, they can play a role in major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse and attention deficit disorder. In recent decades, people in developed countries have consumed greater amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, contained in foods such as eggs, poultry, baked goods, whole-grain bread, nuts, and many oils, that outcompete omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), both members of the omega-3 fatty acid family, contribute to the fluidity of the cell membrane thereby playing an important role in brain development and functioning (10). Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, other seafood including algae and krill, some plants, meat, and nut oils. Many foods such as bread, yogurt, orange juice, milk, and eggs are oftentimes fortified with omega-3 fatty acids as well.
According to one study by Benton and Donohoe (1999), insufficient amounts of thiamine or Vitamin B1 caused “introversion, inactivity, fatigue, decreased self-confidence and generally poorer mood” in participants (5). Improved thiamine status increased well-being, sociability, and overall energy levels. Thiamine is contained in foods such as cereal grains, pork, yeast, potatoes, cauliflower, oranges, and eggs and can influence mood states. Thiamine deficiency is very rare in the United States, however.
Iron deficiency represents one of the most common nutritional problems in both developing and developed countries affecting over 2 billion people worldwide. Iron deficiency anemia can result in depressed mood, lethargy and problems with attention (5). A low iron status is most common among women, children, vegetarians, and people who follow a diet. Iron deficiency also results in a decreased ability to exercise. Foods rich in iron include liver, vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, and parsley, seafood, iron-fortified grains, greens, nuts, meat, and dried fruits.
Besides helping in the prevention of neural tube defects, folic acid also plays an important role in the brain. Folic acid deficiency, which is rare in the general population, is associated with depressed mood. Psychiatric patients are particularly at risk for developing folic acid deficiency because of possible disordered eating habits caused by a loss of appetite and anticonvulsant drugs, which inhibit folic acid absorption (6). Foods rich in folic acid include dark, leafy green vegetables, liver and other organ meats, poultry, oranges and grapefruits, nuts, sprouts, and whole wheat breads.
Food effects on emotions
Studies have found that diets low in carbohydrates increased feelings of anger, depression, and tension and diets high in protein and low in carbohydrates increased anger (6). Diets high in carbohydrates have a generally uplifting effect on mood.
Mood effects on food choice
As much as food can affect our mood, our mood can also affect our food choices. In a study by Macht (1999), female and male participants were asked to report how their eating patterns changed with emotions of anger, fear, sadness, and joy. When experiencing anger and joy, participants experienced increased hunger as compared to feelings of fear and sadness. Anger increased comfort and impulsive eating, and joy increased eating for pleasure (6). Another study found that people eat more less-healthy comfort foods when they are sad (11). Participants either watched a happy or a sad movie and were provided with buttered popcorn or seedless grapes throughout the movie. The group watching the upbeat movie consumed significantly more grapes and less popcorn than the group watching the sad movie. In addition, when participants were provided with nutritional information, the sad people consumed less popcorn than the happy people and the happy people did not alter their consumption (11).
Psychological effects of food consumption
Cognitive factors are often more powerful than physiological factors (6). For example, if a group of dieting individuals is asked to eat foods high in calories, they might experience anxiety and other negative emotions because they are afraid of gaining weight. These effects have nothing to do with the ingredients of the foods themselves.
In addition, learned appetites can also influence our experience of foods. For example, our favorite foods usually trigger positive emotions. Even the smell of food can evoke a strong emotional experience. Furthermore, the situation in which food is consumed and our past experience with particular foods also affects our emotional response (6, 7). For example, a person who thinks that drinking a cup of coffee will increase alertness might feel more alert even after drinking decaffeinated coffee.
How to maximize the benefits of food on mood
The perfect diet to enhance mood and optimize performance and health remains unknown. Although abundant research exists on food-mood relationships, the findings of these studies are often generalized and subjective. For example, the ability of carbohydrates to positively influence mood remains controversial. Therefore, it seems best to follow a well-balanced diet rich in protein, moderate in carbohydrates and low in fat since this could generally improve mood and energy levels. This should also ensure the adequate supply of micronutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, iron, folic acid and thiamine. Furthermore, to avoid the sense of guilt evoked from overindulging in craved foods such as chocolate, the best way is to manage their intake such as including them in small amounts with meals and avoiding them when hungry. In addition, reading the labels before consuming these comfort foods can also deter from overconsumption.
2. Rogers P.J. & Lloyd H.M. (1994). Nutrition and mental performance. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 53: 443-456.
5. Benon D. & Donohoe, RT. 1999. The effects of nutrients on mood. Public Heath Nutrition, 2(3A): 403-9.
6. Ottley, C. 2000. Food and mood. Nursing Standard, 15(2): 46-52.
7. Rogers, P. 1995. Food, mood and appetite. Nutrition Research Reviews, 8: 243-269.
8. Macht, M. & Dettmer, D. 2006. Everyday mood and emotions after eating a chocolate bar or an apple. Appetite. 46(3): 332-336.
Mood Food: Can What You Eat Affect Your Happiness?
There’s more to mood maintenance than eating the right foods. The framework for good mood hygiene begins with implementing some basic nutrition strategies:
Eat often enough
According to research published by the University of Illinois Extension, eating regular meals and snacks at the same times every day helps keep your blood sugar levels steady. Eating at regular intervals helps to ensure that your body has a continuous source of fuel, and this may assist in keeping your mood stable. If you feel like your blood sugar might be dipping frequently, talk to your doctor. This could be a sign of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is a health condition that causes people to need to eat frequently.
Don’t skip meals
Though it may be tempting to rush out the door without breakfast, the Mayo Clinic says that this is a bad idea. Skipping meals actually makes your body less able to assimilate food, and you are more liable to overeat at the next meal. If you keep yourself from getting too hungry, you may be able to avoid a bad mood.
Know what to avoid
Before you can eat mood-boosting foods, it’s important to know which foods to leave off, or limit, on your shopping list. The biggest bad mood culprits are refined carbohydrates, such as sugar. The simple sugars that are in junk foods, such as candy and soda, as well as in everyday foods, such as fruit juice, syrup, and jams, can cause your blood sugar to go up and down like a rollercoaster. Refined white starches such as white rice, white bread, and crackers can have the same effect. The Cleveland Clinic warns that junk foods may satisfy your taste buds, but they probably won’t help your mood.
Blood sugar spikes and drops can leave you with a short-lived burst of energy followed by a tired, cranky feeling. For best mood results, you should also limit alcohol, since it’s a depressant and can disturb your sleep.
How Food Affects Your Mood
Have you ever experienced the energy highs and lows that come with eating too many high sugar foods such as cookies, specialty coffee drinks, energy drinks or fast food? If so, you know that what you eat can definitely affect how you feel. This classic example of a “sugar crash” is just one of the many ways that food can affect your mood on a day-to-day basis.
What’s Behind That Energy Spike (or Crash)?
After a meal or snack, our bodies break down the food we eat into glucose. This glucose is either used right away as fuel for the body or stored for later. The amount of glucose in our bloodstream is our blood sugar. Just like the rest of the body, our brain needs a steady supply of glucose to function properly. When blood sugar gets too high or too low, it can affect us in many different ways. Common symptoms of low blood sugar include feeling anxious, irritable, tired, lightheaded or getting a headache.
Refined carbohydrates – like the added sugar in junk food, fruit juices and many other foods – are the primary culprit behind this cycle of energy highs and lows. Avoiding or limiting those foods can help your blood sugar remain stable throughout the day.
Mood-Supporting Nutrients and Vitamins
Sugar isn’t the only ingredient in food that affects how we feel. Take a look at how these other nutrients can impact your mood in a positive way – and some common foods where you can find them.
Habits to Help Boost Your Mood
We all want to have that feeling of sustained energy and alertness throughout the day. Much of that energy and alertness will come from eating a diet filled with nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy and healthy fats. There are additional health habits and strategies you can practice to get the most out of the foods you eat.
- Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast.
Eat smaller meals and snacks throughout the day instead of a few large meals.
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Limit added sugars from drinks like tea, coffee and juice.
- Eat more whole grains and fewer refined sugars.
- Include protein at every meal.
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
- Get regular exercise.
These tips and strategies can help you avoid a negative loop where low-quality food leads to a bad mood, in turn driving you to eat more low-quality food. For more information on how what you eat can affect your overall well-being, order the Fund’s Principles of Good Nutrition toolbox talk or our Nutrition & Fitness for Laborers series from the online Publications Catalogue.
How food affects your mood
Chances are you’ve had a ‘bad hair day’ or two in your lifetime, or perhaps experienced the wrath of someone who’s woken up ‘on the wrong side of the bed.’ There are plenty of little things we attribute to our moods throughout the day- good or bad. As it turns out, the food we eat can play a large role in how we feel.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” In order to function at an efficient level, the brain and body need fuel. That fuel comes in the form of food, and has a direct impact on the function and structure of your brain, and ultimately your mood.
Rasa Troup, M.S., R.D, C.S.S.D., licensed registered dietitian with University of Minnesota Health, clues us in to what should be on the menu if the goal is a happy disposition.
“Protein is essential to a good mood,” said Troup.
Foods like fish, lean beef, chicken breast and eggs just to name a few, contain amino acids. These make up the chemicals in your brain that are needed to help regulate your feelings and thoughts, as well as your blood sugar.
Complex carbohydrates will also help prevent blood sugar drops which are associated with irritability and tiredness. They contain vitamins, minerals and fiber. Complex carbohydrates can be found in foods such as peas,beans, pasta, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
“A healthy gut will also result in a happier person,” explained Troup.
The gut is responsible for releasing serotonin which is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, appetite and mood. A healthy gut can reduce anxiety, depression, and perception of stress. Getting more probiotics in your diet can help make your gut happy. Foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, fermented veggies and miso soup are all high in probiotics.
Studies have shown omega-3 fats appear to have anti-depressant properties. They are found in salmon, anchovies, fresh tuna, flax seeds, walnuts and canola oil.
Timing is everything
When you eat can also have an effect on your mood. Eating irregularly can result in drops in blood sugar, causing one to feel tired and irritable. Eating on a more consistent schedule will maintain steady blood sugar levels, and result in a good mood.
Rasa Troup, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., licensed registered dietitian with University of Minnesota Health
As far as what not to eat- “We should focus on how to eat wholesome foods, rather than what to avoid,” explained Troup. “All foods have a place in our diet in moderation. It’s really more about portion control, rather than labeling food as good or bad.”
Troup’s advice: focus on eating food as close to its natural state as possible. The less processed and wholesome, the better.