food and mood

Food and Mood: Does Food Affect Emotions?

Food affects mood and your mood affects the food you choose. Have you ever been “down in the dumps” after splurging on cake and ice cream? Do you feel depressed after drinking too much alcohol? Are you suddenly elated after you eat chocolate?

Worry not!!! Most likely you do not have a mood disorder.

The food we consume can in fact affect our dispositions. Meal choice selections can change mood, influence brain activity, and ease anxiety. So good eating makes for a happy brain and a happy you.

The Pesky Brain

The brain is so complicated and has so much influence on everything we do. If food powers the brain, then it stands to reason that what we eat affects how we feel and how well we think. Vitamins, protein, minerals, and carbohydrates fuel brainpower, and these are found in good food.

Brain Chemistry

 These brain chemicals are critical to the well-being we all pursue. ­­­­

  • A sense of calm comes from Serotonin. It decreases cravings too.
  • Sharp attention and uplifted motivation come from Dopamine.
  • Increased awareness and improved memory come from nor-epinephrine.

 We want these chemicals in our body in good working order, right?

Nutrients: The building block of good body chemistry

This table represents the nutrients we need, the effect each has on our mood, and the food sources that supply these nutrients.

Nutrient Mood Impact Food Source
Carbohydrate Sense of calmness 100% whole grain bread and cereal, sweet potatoes, peas, beans, and corn.
Protein Alertness and motivation Lean meat, fish, poultry, low-fat dairy (no fat too), eggs, beans, and nuts.
Omega-3 fatty acid Less craving and a sense of calmness
Salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, flaxseed, and walnuts.
Vitamin A Learning and memory development
Sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, and fortified cereals.
Vitamin B 6 Memory and concentration
Fortified cereal, chickpeas, soy products, and potatoes.
Vitamin B 12 Mood, emotions, and sleep Clams, oysters, fish, lean meat, poultry, low fat or fat-free dairy, and fortified cereal.
Folate Prevents depression Broccoli, spinach, collard, 100% whole grains, and fortified cereal.
Vitamin C Mood changes and energy Oranges, kiwi, strawberries

Good Mood Food

Berries of all kinds. I love these for breakfast with wheat toast.

Berries are high in vitamin C which helps during times of stress.

Black beans, lentils, lima beans. Yummy in  chili or by themselves.

Beans supply magnesium which triggers calmness.

Dark chocolate (72% cocoa recommended).  This one is good on any level.

Chocolate is comfort food.

Fish. Some can take or leave this one. Personally, I love it all.

Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout are part of a healthy meal. High amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids quell anxiety.

Herbal teas. My favorite is lemon ginger.

Herbal tea at any time of day is calming.

Leafy greens. Ah, yes, salads and side dishes (spinach).

Eat leafy greens as a side dish. Spinach and kale are particularly good for mood.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, studies have connected plant-based foods with a higher level of optimism. Is kale the new anti-depressant?

Whole fruits. Great for snacks and the hungry horrors.

I keep a bowl of whole fruit on my counter for quick snacks and some vitamin C.

Melons work well as a snack or in a fruit salad.

Watermelon is especially good for your nerves because of its high content of vitamin B6.

Worst Mood Foods

 It is unrealistic to eliminate all of these from your diet. Eat these foods in sparse amounts or eliminate altogether:

Caffeine. Personally, I have coffee once each day. I have found that in moderation it is fine. Remember, everyone is different, so listen to your body.

Some people are infatuated with coffee and will only buy the best. 

Alcohol. Again self-restraint is the key.

One drink is harmless. Over-indulgence wreaks havoc on mood.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 3 drinks in any one day is okay. You must curb the weekly amount of drinks to 7 to maintain good health. 

Sugar. I find that I have more energy when I stay away from sugar and processed food.

Use sugar in extreme moderation. Try to rely on natural sugar (for example, honey and maple syrup) rather than white sugar.

Bread – I limit myself to pita and whole grain bread. Confession: I occasionally buy a loaf of raisin bread. I tell myself “Everything in moderation.”

Processed white bread is highly processed and nowhere near its natural state.

Pasta – I eat pasta very rarely, and in very small quantities.

Pasta is difficult for me to limit, so I stay away.

White rice – Quinoa is better, and it has protein. Cauliflower rice is a good substitute.

Brown rice or quinoa is better for your body and mind.

Potatoes. White potatoes are starchy. Although they are both a healthy carbohydrate, I stick to sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes have more fiber and are lower on the glycemic index.

I would never suggest giving up your wine. I know my friends are wine lovers. Of course, too much will increase depression and anxiety. 

Final Thought

Recent university studies found that diets that ban carbs can cause fatigue and sadness.

More studies suggest that skipping breakfast leads to anxiety and depression, where regularly eating a balanced breakfast lightens your mood.

Finally, when dieting, lose weight slowly. Dropping weight too fast does impact your brain chemistry. Losing weight slowly can improve your mood.

The recommended lifestyle is the Mediterranean diet: fruits, nuts, vegetables, cereals, fish, and legumes. This recipe Herb Roasted Chicken with Potatoes, Olives and Feta is based on the Mediterranean methods of cooking. Get Recipe.

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