Food and minding your mood!

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    The link between food and mood will come as no surprise to us! We know that the days our mood is better we are more likely to eat well and, on those days, where our mood is low, we may crave less nutritious foods. Research is growing in the area of nutritional psychiatry, and we are beginning to get a greater understanding of how nutrition affects mental health. 

    It’s important to state that the reasons for our mood can be many and varied and that the relationship between diet and our mental health is complex (1). Its appears that certain dietary patterns overall, are more beneficial than others. The Mediterranean diet or the traditional Japanese diet when compared have a 25-35% lower risk of depression in contrast to the Western or the Standard American Diet (SAD). This is believed to be due to the higher processed food content, sugar and added salt available in the latter diet (2).

    So, let’s talk through some of those nutrients and dietary patterns that have been linked with our neurological state.

    Fruit and vegetables

    Are you fuelling correctly?

    If we don’t put fuel in our car, we know it won’t function and our bodies are no different! Carbohydrates are our main energy source and when we don’t eat enough to meet our needs, our energy will be lower, concentration poorer and we can start to crave energy dense food. 

    The type of carbohydrate we eat also affects our mood and concentration, with refined carbohydrates or those with a higher glycemic index being linked to the incidence of depressive symptoms (3).

    Here are some changes in how we fuel that we can make, to help support our mood:

    • Striving for regular meals will help keep blood sugar levels more consistent, avoids being too hungry and then overeating when you do get to eat. 
    • Making sure that you have enough carbohydrates on your plate to meet your energy needs.
    • Choosing higher fibre carbohydrates will support the slower release of energy, these include wholegrains and wholemeal varieties, legumes, fruit and vegetables.

    Comfort eating is often associated with low mood or changes in our appetite, especially times of stress.  This may be explained by the fact that carbohydrates can increase the availability of the amino acid tryptophan to the brain. Tryptophan is a precursor for the production of serotonin, which is the “happy” hormone (5). Nonetheless, it’s not beneficial in the longer-term to use food as a coping mechanism, as it may lead to emotional and stress eating and ignoring the physical hunger cues from our body. Being more in tune with our body, awareness of our emotional triggers, hunger cues and eating more mindfully can be helpful. There are lots of useful help available through Bodywhys if you are concerned or concerned for a colleague or family member.


    Are there really good mood foods?

    We talked above about the importance of a dietary pattern in relation to our mood and not necessarily specific foods. A varied and colourful diet provides the micronutrients that are essential for the many chemical processes within our body. One of these processes is the synthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and noradrenaline that regulate our mood. As we don’t eat nutrients on their own, the best approach is to eat a varied diet, that makes sure that we have enough of these micronutrients available for the production of these important neurotransmitters. 

    Vitamins & Minerals

    The consumption of omega-3 essential fatty acids also needs consideration. Research is now indicating that low omega-3 intake may predispose certain individuals to depression and anxiety and that dietary supplementation could potentially play a role in preventing or treating these disorders in certain individuals (6). A word of caution more research is needed here!! 

    Nevertheless, there are numerous benefits to increasing our intake of poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) similar to those in the Mediterranean diet. A great way to do this to increase your intake of oily fish like salmon, sardines or mackerel having them at least 2-3 times a week and plant options like walnuts, chia and linseeds can also be beneficial. 

    Lastly not forgetting adequate hydration, we know that even mild dehydration can have an impact on our concentration and cognition. While we may feel coffee and caffeine drinks gives us the boost needed, try and get as much water in everyday! 2lts is recommended for most adults and remember you  may need more if you are exercising.


    Minding our mood other factors outside of what we eat also have an affect.

    While what we eat is important for the reasons listed above, we know that the factors that influence our mood are many. Therefore, ensuring that we engage in:

    • Physical activity
    • Connecting with friends
    • Doing things, you enjoy
    • Getting enough sleep
    • Learning
    • Giving to others

    Will all help build towards our mental health. 


    It’s also important to acknowledge that for those times when our mood is low, we may not feel like cooking. That our mood can influence what we want to eat. So, when shopping stock up on convenient and healthy snacks, such as fruit, vegetable sticks, oatcakes or snack-size bags of nuts. Having them within reach at home, work and in the car for when our energy starts to wean will get keep us going until we have time and more energy to have our next meal. Planning our meals ahead and even prepping them can make sure that we have a more nutritious option available when our mood may not be at its best!


    1. Firth, J. et al. (2020) ‘Food and mood: How do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing?’, BMJ, p. m2382. doi:10.1136/bmj.m2382.
    2. BDA (2021) Food and mood: How do foods affect how you feel?, British Dietetic Association (BDA). Available at: 
    3. Salari-Moghaddam, A. et al. (2018) ‘Glycemic index, glycemic load, and depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis’, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 73(3), pp. 356–365. doi:10.1038/s41430-018-0258-z.
    4. Wurtman, R.J. et al. (2003) ‘Effects of normal meals rich in carbohydrates or proteins on plasma tryptophan and tyrosine ratios’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 77(1), pp. 128–132. doi:10.1093/ajcn/77.1.128.
    5. BDA (2023) Food and mood, British Dietetic Association (BDA). Available at:
    6. Larrieu, T. and Layé, S. (2018) ‘Food for mood: Relevance of nutritional omega-3 fatty acids for depression and anxiety’, Frontiers in Physiology, 9. doi:10.3389/fphys.2018.01047.