For my mood swings and depression, I tried a number of antidepressant medications prescribed by my doctor. The results were disastrous. I felt more depressed than ever, and experienced more mood swings. Upon advice from a friend, I visited a certified nutritionist, who adjusted my diet and supplements to include omega-3 fatty acids and the right amount of protein, fresh fruits and veggies, and complex carbs. The results? No more depression and only rare mood swings. I am so grateful that the natural solution to my health issue could be found in the products on this site and at my local health food store! Gail S., Tulsa, OK

Does Food Really Affect Your Mood?

Absolutely. In fact, food can have such an immediate and strong impact on mood that the old adage, “You are what you eat” could easily be changed to, “You feel what you eat.”

Your brain plays a major role defining your mood, so if you feed your brain the "right" nutrients, you'll end up with a happy mood. But if you put junk food in your body, be prepared for your brain to revolt with bad moods and mood swings! Basically the science of food's affect on mood is based on this: Dietary changes can bring about changes in our brain structure (chemically and physiologically), which can lead to altered behavior."

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD

When we talk about food and its affect on mood, we are really referring to all substances that you put in your body, which your body can absorb—not just bananas, steak, and pie. When we think of how our moods can be affected, we think of not just actual food products, but also:

    • Beverages (what kind, quality, quantity, and frequency)
    • Supplements
    • Medications
    • Even lifestyle habits related to food, such as what, when, and how much you eat


How to Feed Your Brain

Feeding the brain is no simple matter. The blood brain barrier allows only small micronutrients and fat-soluble molecules to pass, yet the brain requires huge quantities of the nutrients and molecules. A hungry brain results in decreased mental alertness as well as affected mood. To feed the brain, you need to focus on specific foods that nourish the brain and can pass through the blood brain barrier.  One of the best ways to feed your brain is to get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show that Americans get far too few of these fatty acids that the brain (made up of 60% fat) needs. In addition, other brain-healthy nutrients include:

  • ALA (alpha lineoleic acid)
  • B vitamins
  • antioxidants
  • protein (raises levels of mood-boosting neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine)
  • plus many more...

A Mood and Food Study

While not all foods have a big impact on mood, certain foods can have a profound effect. Scientists label "good mood foods" as "mood supporters," and "bad mood foods" as "mood stressors." Remember that food, as discussed in this context, can include supplements, beverages, lifestyle habits, and more.

One study done in England clearly demonstrated the effects of certain types of food on mood.

"In a study of 200 people done in England for the mental health group known as Mind, participants were told to cut down on mood "stressors" they ate, while increasing the amount of mood "supporters." Stressors included sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and chocolate (more of that coming up). Supporters were water, vegetables, fruit, and oil-rich fish. Eighty-eight percent of the people who tried this reported improved mental health. Specifically, 26% said they had fewer mood swings, 26% had fewer panic attacks and anxiety, and 24% said they experienced less depression."

~From "Food to Balance Your Mood," by Star Lawrence, Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

Finding the right nutritional balance is an important step in controlling and reducing mood swings. According to Rebecca K. Kirby, MD, MS, RD, whole and natural foods release nutrients more slowly than refined and sugary foods. This allows the brain to continue to use the nutrition from your meal for hours after you eat. Eating sugary and starchy refined foods tend to give the brain a sudden burst of energy but, as it is not sustainable, a crash soon follows. Other mood destabilizers you are likely to encounter throughout the day are caffeine, alcohol and sweets. The first step in finding your optimum nutritional balance is awareness, if you are aware of how certain foods affect your mood, over time you can weed out the culprits and tailor your diet to fit your needs.

Believe it or not, eating specific foods at certain times of the day can actually help keep your mood in check.

- Frances Largeman-Roth, Registered Dietician (RD)

Examples of Bad Mood Foods

"No matter what challenges your day brings, it's easier to face the world when your spirits are high. And it's hard to be in a good mood when you're feeling hungry or if your body is lacking key nutrients."Elaine Magee, MPH, RD

The study above indicates some bad mood culprits of which you are probably already aware: sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. But there are other "sneaky" bad mood foods of which you may be completely unaware. According to Corey J. Herbert, MD, several seemingly "innocent" foods can contribute to poor mood. Three of his top culprits include: bagels, hot dogs, and sugar-free drinks.

    • Bagel: "Unhealthy white grains, especially when ingested without protein, can cause a spike in blood sugar. Your body reacts by pulling your blood sugar down, causing you to feel lethargic. While that morning bagel may fill you up and make you feel better for a little while, you'll regret it 45 minutes later when you're run down and crankier than you were before you ate it."
    • Hot Dogs: "Or any manufactured processed meat like bologna for that matter. They are chock full of nitrates, a preservative used to keep food fresh. Nitrates can cause both tension and migraine headaches, so stay away from these meats."
    • Sugar Free Drinks: "This means the sodas and those little powders or liquids that you add to water. These fool your mind into thinking that you are actually consuming sugar, and then send you on a frenzy to actually find real sugar later. People that drink these diet drinks actually tend to gain more weight than people who drink the real thing."

Examples of Good Mood Foods

" has increasingly revealed the vital ways in which our food impacts our mood." Kate Geagan, RD

Now that we have deep-sixed everything from bagels to hot dogs as "bad mood foods," let's get on with the good news—and the good mood foods! In this section we talk about actual food products that affect mood. In other sections, we also discuss supplements and lifestyle changes that can support a healthy vibrant mood. Luckily there are plenty of foods around that contribute to a healthy and happy mood. According to the well-known Dr. Mehmet Oz, there are some quite simple ways to improve your mood with food. On his website, he quotes three major sources of good mood foods:

For Anxiety: Drink Kefir Milk

This milk is different from regular milk because it's fermented with probiotic kefir grains. Kefir milk is also loaded with tryptophan – an amino acid that also helps raise serotonin levels in the brain – which can help reduce anxious feelings. Drinking one cup a day is enough to keep you feeling calm.

For Mood Swings: Eat Asparagus

If you're prone to mood swings, asparagus is a must-have vegetable in your diet. It's packed with folic acid; low levels of this nutrient have been linked to depression. Just one cup of asparagus has 66% of your daily value of folic acid. It's easy to incorporate this superfood into your diet – you can use it as an ingredient in an omelet or throw some asparagus tips into a salad. Try to work it into at least two meals a day to regulate mood.

For Stress: Eat Orangesorange

Oranges are packed with vitamin C, which brings high stress hormones back to normal levels more quickly. Vitamin C also helps lower blood pressure. Blood pressure can rise in response to stressful situations. Eat an orange as a snack on the days when you anticipate extra stress at home or at work. Doing so about an hour before a stressful situation can help you stay calm.

"Small amounts of dark chocolate can be a physical upper. Dark chocolate has an effect on the levels of brain endorphins [feel-good chemicals produced by our bodies]." Diane M. Becker MPH, ScD, director of the Center for Health Promotion at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Want other good mood food ideas?

Consider these excellent sources from Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, Food and Nutrition Expert, and New York Times best-selling author:

    • Kiwi: "If you're losing your temper in the morning, you're likely experiencing ongoing stress, which means that your body is dealing with major oxidative damage. One cup of kiwi fruit gives you a powerful antioxidant boost with more than 100% of the RDA of vitamin C."
    • Pumpkin Seeds: "Adults think mid-morning snacks are just for kids, but many of us get cranky around this time. By around 10-11 am, your body needs a hit of nutrients to keep you level until you can take a lunch break. I like to keep pumpkin seeds (also called pepitas) on hand because they're portable and non-perishable, and they're also packed with the mineral magnesium, which helps you relax by regulating blood pressure."
    • Barley: "Midday meltdowns are often the result of low blood sugar, so by lunchtime you need to eat something that is going to bring your blood sugar back into a healthy (and happy) range, without it crashing later on. Barley is a whole grain that has an amazing effect on blood sugar, keeping it steady for hours."
    • Peanuts and Popcorn: "We all tend to experience a dip in energy around 3 p.m., and that can leave you ready to fly off the handle... You need something that's going to boost serotonin, the neurotransmitter that increases feelings of pleasure... Peanuts are a great source of the B vitamin folate and when you don't have enough folate in your diet, your brain can't produce enough serotonin. The peanuts (choose roasted and unsalted) are a good source of folate and the carbohydrates in the popcorn provide just enough fuel to make your brain happy."
    • Hot Peppers: "It may seem counterintuitive, but I suggest finishing the day off with a meal that includes hot peppers. Capsaicin is the chemical that makes hot peppers "hot." When you eat hot peppers, your body responds to the burn of the heat by releasing endorphins. Getting an endorphin boost at night will help clear out end of day stress and keep you in a good mood before bed."

And the Research Shows...Food and mood are definitely related!

When you eat right by putting nutrient-dense whole foods in your body, you are really supporting a happy mood. We've given you some ideas above of which foods fall into the "good mood" and "bad mood" categories. According to Drew Ramsey, MD, the brain needs to be nourished; he noted it consumes about 420 calories a day. To function properly, the brain requires omega-3 fatty acids, folate, fiber, choline, iron, zinc, and vitamins B12, D, and E among other nutrients.

So, can a patient’s diet affect their mood and mental (in addition to physical) well-being? Yes, Ramsey answered, pointing to some interesting studies exploring diet, nutrition, and mood disorders. In one study, researchers followed 10,094 initially healthy participants for a median of 4.4 years. To better understand the association between diet and mood, participants were assigned a Mediterranean dietary pattern score, which positively weighted the consumption of vegetables, fruit and nuts, cereal, legumes and fish. A monounsaturated- to saturated-fatty-acids ratio and moderate alcohol consumption also had a positive influence on the score. On the other hand, consumption of meat, meat products, and whole-fat dairy were negatively weighted. The researchers found an inverse relationship between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and risk for depression, suggesting this diet has a protective role against the development of mood disorders.