Diet & Nutrition | Wellness
Bad Mood? Look to Your Food

Bad Mood? Look to Your Food

What you eat affects how you feel

Contributor: Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, Program Manager at ClevelandClinicWellness.com  

Don’t let dreary weather or dashed hopes dampen your spirits. A healthy meal with great ingredients can put you in a great mood.

That’s because certain foods are key components in the manufacture of powerful chemicals in the brain. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, can boost mood, improve sleep, increase pain tolerance and enhance performance.

4 brain chemicals that influence mood

Four chemicals directly impact mood and are present in higher concentrations after meals than between meals:

  • Serotonin, released after eating carbs (sugars and starches). This “feel-good” chemical enhances calm, improves outlook and lessens depression. The key is to consume complex carbohydrates (whole grains, beans and vegetables) and not simple carbohydrates (cookies, candy, etc.). “Simple carbohydrates give you a quick burst of energy because they increase blood sugar,” says Ms. Jamieson-Petonic. “ But that burst doesn’t last long. Complex carbohydrates provide a longer-lasting effect.”
  • Dopamine and norepinephrine, released after eating protein (meats, poultry, dairy and legumes). These chemicals work together to increase your energy level, enhance your concentration and make you more alert. “Choose lean proteins, which are not only better for your heart but also are easier to digest. They won’t leave you feeling weighed down like fried or high-fat food choices,” she says.
  • Acetylcholine, produced from a B vitamin called choline  found in wheat germ and eggs. This chemical is believed to influence learning, memory and mood.

The ideal meal

The best meal to enhance your mood is one that combines complex carbohydrates with lean proteins, such as:

  • Tuna on 100 percent whole wheat bread
  • A turkey meatball with whole grain pasta and red sauce
  • A lean piece of beef with brown rice and vegetables

“Vegetarians can opt for soy or quinoa,” says Ms. Jamieson-Petonic. “These are both complete plant proteins that offer all the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) you need.”

Foods that spoil your mood

Meanwhile, avoid foods that may taste good at first but won’t leave you feeling your best:

  • Lunchmeat submarine sandwich on white. ”The white roll will reduce serotonin levels and leave you feeling drained, and the tidal wave of salt from the lunchmeats will make you tired and bloated,” says Ms. Jamieson-Petonic.
  • Bag of chips, bottle of regular soda and a cookie. “I’ve seen folks buy this for lunch,” she says. ”The chips are high in saturated fat (which tends to increase inflammation inside blood vessels) and low in serotonin. And tons of added sugars in the soda and cookie will trigger a protein cascade that will leave you feeling low, low down.”
  • Fried fish sandwich with french fries. “Fish is normally a “feel-good” food, but not when it’s coated with white flour and deep-fried in a vat of oil,” says Ms. Jamieson-Petonic. ”Both the fish and fries are high in fat and sodium, which will zap your mood quicker than a dreary day.” 

If you’ll be making changes in your diet, be patient. It may take two to three weeks to see an improvement in your mood.

Tags: Be Well e-News, food, healthy diet
Cleveland Clinic now offers same-day appointments. Get the care you need, right away at 888.223.CARE.

We welcome your comments. However, we cannot provide a medical opinion without an in-person consultation. To learn about Cleveland Clinic services available to you, please fill out our WebMail form.
  • http://www.facebook.com/barb.truman Barb Truman

    Great article. Simple and straight to the point.

    • Morris McNeely

      Thank you for the great information.

  • Truth Sayer

    Great information. Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/walkerbert Bert Walker

    All this garbage about neurochemistry, how about some fresh produce, lettuce, apples, tomatoes, from-the-ground type food? What kind of drugs are they dumping directly into the food, these days, or feeding to the poultry and the livestock, or whatever? Want to feel good? Have a banana, and drink about 1/2 quart of water. Follow it with a couple fresh carrots, if you’re still feeling hungry. The hunger signal tells you that you need to fill the hole, fuel gauge is about to the ‘E’. If you have a blender, get creative, get some carrots, bananas etc., couple tablespoons of honey, cup or two of milk, handful of ice cubes, dash of this-n-that for flavor, and get ‘smoothie’ on those hunger pangs. Superfood’s out there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/noneyabinnis Jorma J. Takala

    I cannot believe that you didn’t mention foods that contain artificial colors, flavors, msg and the preservatives bha, bht, tbhq and calcium disodium edta.

    100% of every single man, woman and child in America is allergic to the chemical additives used in our foods, beverages, drugs/pharmaceuticals, toiletries, cosmetics and even heavily dyed clothing like denim.

    All the additives cause swelling of the brain stem and that swelling causes the most severe behavioral disorders than anything else.

    You guys don’t get it, or what?

    The swelling of the brain stem causes the disorders because the swelling actually causes compression and pressure against the delicate tissues of the brain. When the pressure ensues it makes it so that the chemicals that you listed above don’t make it to their respective receptors to do what they do.

    The medulla oblongata is directly next to the brain stem and when it swells, it creates a condition where the bipolar mood swings are a predominant behavioral trait.

    Autism, Alzheimers, Sleep Apnea, SIDS and a very large number of other disorders are caused by the allergic reaction everyone has to the additives.

    Absolutely no one is immune!

    No one!

    • http://www.facebook.com/monti.estle Monti Estle

      I aagree. I actually have a brain malformation in my brain stem called a chiari malformation and it makes m super sensitive to these thing and i can literally feel the difference when i eat organic fooda than when i eat “enhanced foods” and let me tell you it is not right for the organic foods to be so freaking expensive. I work two jobs and can afford to pay all my bills plus eat totally healthy. A big problem.is that the crap, the unhealthy food is so cheap and the healthy food that comea from the earth is so expensive and if i didnt have so many contaminents in my soil i would grow my own stuff!

    • Jennifer Carlin

      I am no fan of additives, preservatives and the others you speak of but for ALL humans to have an allergy to something, then they must all have a release of specific neurotransmitters upon consumption. There is no proof of this happening. Also, Autism is a complex disorder related to at least 115 genetic mutations. Research has clearly shown that maternal and infant diet does not play a causative role. Many autistic children were fed only organic, non processed/additive filled foods (as did their mothers when pregnant). There is a much greater link to paternal age than diet. If you are going to make declarative statements they have to be backed up by peer reviewed, double blind studies. You have none. I eat as little of the artificial ingredients you listed as I can. But not because they cause allergic reactions, autism, alzheimers etc.

      • Kelly

        I too am so sick and tired of people carelessly blaming autism on food/inoculations.

        • Jennifer Carlin

          I agree! Exhausting

  • Kelly

    is it really necessary to be so obnoxious in some of the comments?

  • Jorma J. Takala

    Lets pick one? Petroleum based coal tar, for all intense and purposes it is the same type of coal tar that is used to pave the roads across America. regardless of any neurotransmitters, or their functionality, or lack there of. a chemical does not have to hit onto a neurotransmitter to cause an allergic reaction. the common migraine headache is the result of our body reacting to the chemicals used in the manufacture of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.

    By way of the simply idea that petroleum based coal tar is not something that any human should consume, nor is it safe for any human to consume and by consuming something that is obviously toxic you can expect to have some sort of reaction, you can call it allergic, you can call it chemical incompatibility, or whatever you want, it is still a reaction. my reactions are now anaphylactic mostly because I do not normally consume any additives so there is no other additives to mask any reactions from one, or any of the artificial additives!

    These problems are not exclusive to foods, all hair dyes, make up, cologne, after shave, deodorant, etc. contains colors and preservatives.

    Dove, Dial, AXE, every soap and shampoo you can think of (almost) all contain a form of EDTA, which is made from the same formaldehyde used to preserve the vaccines that trigger autism in children with the preexisting condition of problems linked to the consumption and use of products containing any dyes flavors, or preservatives. The EDTA in your soap and shampoo ARE absorbed into the skin and throughout the body.

    All these things effect the outcome of child births in this day and age!

    My logic is undeniable! It’s all bad and must be banned!

    The “state of Autism” itself is maintained by the consumption and use of all the products that contain and, or all of the additives.

    It’s literally every where and virtually impossible to avoid!

    I know because I have a hard time with it as well!