Nutrition And Moods

The scientific link between food and mood regulation isn’t yet fully understood by researchers. However, some research has found that certain brain chemicals, like serotonin, seem to be elevated by the components of some foods, and corresponding mood shifts seem to occur frequently in people who have recently eaten these foods.

Diet and Depression

Diet and depression may also be linked. Certain foods are associated with depressed energy levels and reduced feelings of well-being. Blood sugar spikes and crashes brought on by fast burning carbohydrates, for example, can lead to a temporary sense of depression and fatigue.

Dietary choices may also have effects on lasting feelings of depression. Researchers at University College London (2009) found that a nutrient-rich diet of fish, grains and vegetables seemed to protect study subjects from the symptoms of depression when compared to a group that consumed a diet of largely processed foods.

Nutrition and Moods: A List of Positive Choices

Some foods have been associated with an increased sense of energy, well-being and alertness. Note that some of these foods are among the healthiest options in the food pyramid, which is no coincidence. Slow burning carbohydrates like whole grains have a moderating effect on blood sugar, and foods high in necessary vitamins and minerals can affect brain health. Foods associated with elevated mood levels include:

  • Carbohydrates: Whole wheat pasta, whole grain bread and oatmeal are slow-burning carbohydrates that contain tryptophan, an amino acid that triggers the release of serotonin in the brain. Your brain actually requires tryptophan to release serotonin, so not only do these carbs illustrate a positive link between food and mood, the lack of them can make you tense and irritable.
  • Caffeine: Coffee can stimulate the central nervous system, improving reaction time and working memory. It also helps focus attention and concentration in moderate amounts.
  • Folate: This B vitamin has been linked to reduced feelings of depression. Folate is found in high concentrations in leafy green vegetables, like spinach.
  • Foods that lower blood pressure: Pistachios, avocados and bananas contain potassium and monounsaturated fats that can help lower blood pressure. You may still be responsive to stressful situations after loading up on these, but your body will be less vulnerable to stress and its damaging effects.
  • Milk: The whey proteins in milk have been linked to a decrease in anxiety and frustration.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids: Find these, which support healthy brain function, in walnuts, flaxseed, salmon and soy.
  • Turkey: Turkey protein contains tyrosine and tryptophan (also found in pineapple and cottage cheese) which improve cognition and problem solving skills.

Some Foods with Negative Effects

A few popular food choices during times of stress may actually make things worse.

  • Fats: Fats, especially animal fats, are complicated to digest and divert blood resources from the brain. Over the short term, high-fat foods can slow mental agility.
  • Ice cream, white bread and cookies: Though the carbs in these may present a temptation, it’s best to steer clear. Diet and depression are linked just as strongly as diet and positive moods, and quick burning sugars like these can wreak havoc on blood sugar levels and result in upsetting peaks and crashes.


LifeLogic. (2010). Top five mood foods. Retrieved September 7, 2010, from

Oswald, I. (2010). Sleep, nutrition, and mood. Retrieved September 7, 2010, from

Tasnime N. Akbaraly, Brunner, E., Ferrie, J., Marmot M., Kivimaki M., and Singh-Manoux, A. (2009). Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 195, 408-413. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.108.058925