The Relationship Between Food and Mood

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Turns out that the old saying “you are what you eat” is true, especially in relation to food and mood. Over the past several years, many evidence-based studies have been published detailing how some foods help improve your mood while others make it worse. Important nutrients affect brain chemistry, impacting mood, memory and cognitive function.  However, if you’re eating a healthy balance of whole foods that contain a variety of nutrients, you’re more likely to feel calmer, more content and generally in a better mood.

Ways Your Food Intake Can Affect Your Mood

You aren’t eating at regular intervals. Not consuming enough calories can lead to problems, such as feeling foggy, tired and low energy.

You’re cutting out or skimping on essential food groups, which your body needs to fuel itself and produce serotonin, the brain’s “feel good” chemical.

You’re forgetting essential vitamins and minerals, which can cause depression, inability to concentrate and chronic fatigue. A diet lacking essential nutrients such as iron can disrupt brain chemistry and alter mood and behavior.

You’re not getting ample omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to a lower incidence of depression.

You’re eating many processed foods, which may contribute to a larger waistline, feeling sluggish and potentially lead to insulin imbalance and inflammation when over-consumed.

  • Insulin levels: Some processed foods, especially those with large amounts of added sugars, can cause insulin levels to spike and drop rapidly, causing hunger to occur again fairly quickly.
  • Inflammation: Chronic inflammation can be a result of a diet that includes a large amount of processed, manufactured foods. This leads to elevated levels of C-reactive protein, which is associated with increased risk of psychological distress and depression.

Ways to Improve Your Mood Through Food

Load your plate with mood-supporting foods by eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables.

Consume foods as close as possible to how they look in nature. For example, an orange is less processed and closer to nature than orange juice.

Eat plenty of dopamine-building foods, such as fish, poultry, eggs, leafy greens and legumes.

Increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts, to help fight off feelings of depression.

Sprinkle in magnesium-rich foods, which support sleep. Foods high in magnesium include almonds, spinach, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

Limit added sugars. Choose no-sugar-added varieties of foods when possible. Have fruit for dessert more often than sugar-sweetened treats.

Get your vitamin D level checked. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with depression and mood disorders. Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish, egg yolks, liver and sunshine.

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Abbie Gellman, MS, RD, CDN
Abbie Gellman, MS, RD, CDN, is a New York City-based registered dietitian and chef. Check out her site and blog at Culinary Nutrition Cuisine, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.