Does What You Eat Affect Your Mood?
If you’re feeling down, what you eat can help. Here’s what to eat (and what to avoid) to help you see things on the sunnier side.
If dreary weather or another day of staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic has you feeling a case of the blahs, what you choose to eat can make a difference.
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Certain foods and nutrients help your brain to make chemicals that can impact your mood, attention and focus, while other foods can zap your energy, says registered dietitian Sarah Thomsen Ferreira, MS, MPH, RD, IFNCP.
The best meal to enhance your mood is one that combines complex carbohydrates with lean proteins and colorful produce. For example, complex carbohydrates from whole foods (like sweet potatoes, rolled oats, beans and quinoa) can increase availability of the feel-good chemical serotonin in your brain.
Protein consumption (from foods like fish, beef, chicken, turkey, tofu, beans, eggs and unsweetened yogurt) has been linked to higher levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are brain chemicals that play a role in your mood, motivation and concentration.
Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that nourish your body and have also been shown to boost happiness.
“The Mediterranean diet has gained significant attention for decreasing symptoms of depression, with key components being increased intake of vegetables, fruit, omega-3-rich fish, nuts, legumes and olive oil,” Ferreira says. Consuming a diet based on whole, unrefined foods with enough protein, healthy fat and fiber also helps to keep blood sugar stable after meals, which has been linked to improvements in mood and anxiety.
Over time, eating foods without a lot of nutrients can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Nutrients important to a healthy mood include:
Examples of meals which combine protein, fat, fiber, colorful produce, mood-supportive nutrients and whole-food carbohydrates include:
Meanwhile, avoid foods that could leave you feeling mentally drained. “Some foods with low nutritional value may give you a quick energy boost but could leave you with low energy and mood later on,” Ferreira says. Those include:
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.