Food & Mood

Many people are seeking to take control of their mental health using self-help, and to find approaches they can use alongside, or even instead of, prescribed medication. One self-help strategy is to make changes to what we eat.

How does food affect mood?

 There are many explanations for the cause-and-effect relationship between food and mood. The following are some examples:

  • Fluctuations in blood sugar levels are associated with changes in mood and energy, and are affected by what we eat.
  • Brain chemicals (neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine) influence the way we think, feel and behave. They can be affected by what we’ve eaten.
  • There can be abnormal reactions to artificial chemicals in foods, such as artificial colourings and flavourings.
  • People can become hypersensitive to foods. This can cause what are known as delayed or hidden food allergies or sensitivities.

Low levels of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids can affect mental health, with some symptoms associated with particular nutritional deficiencies. For example, links have been demonstrated between low levels of certain B-vitamins and symptoms of schizophrenia, low levels of the mineral zinc and eating disorders, and low levels of omega-3 oils and depression

Foods to avoid


Avoid drinks that contain caffeine. They may make you feel better at first, but they cause dehydration and can leave you feeling irritable, jumpy and prone to withdrawal headaches.


The secret is to avoid sugary foods that give an instant pick-me-up. This will be followed by a sudden slump and your energy levels will crash, along with your mood, and you’ll find yourself reaching for the biscuit tin again.


Although alcohol can briefly produce a pleasant and relaxed state of the mind, it will make you feel worse the next day, such as irritability, low mood and anxiety.


10 Foods to help improve your mood

Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of the mineral selenium. In recent years, people have been consuming less selenium, but eating just three Brazil nuts a day can provide your recommended daily amount (RDA).
Studies have shown increased depression, irritability, anxiety and tiredness in people with low selenium levels – so by just eating a few Brazil nuts a couple of times a week might help to improve your mood.


Studies have shown that people who are deficient in omega 3 may be more susceptible to depression and low mood. The omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, make up a large percentage of our brain tissue.
Eating a diet high in omega 3 will also keep your brain healthy and improve mood by keeping brain cells flexible, so the brain’s messaging chemicals – neurotransmitters – can work more effectively.


Oats are an effective mood booster. This is because they have a low glycaemic index (GI), as they slowly release energy into our bloodstream rather than by a quick rush that soon dips. This helps to keep your blood sugar and mood stable. The mineral selenium in oats can also help mood by regulating the function of the thyroid gland.


Bananas contain the important amino acid tryptophan and also vitamins A, B6 and C, fibre, potassium, phosphorous, iron and carbohydrate. Mood-boosting carbohydrates aid in the absorption of tryptophan in the brain, and vitamin B6 helps convert the tryptophan into the mood-lifting hormone serotonin. This helps to boost your mood and also aids good sleep.
Because of its ability to raise serotonin levels, tryptophan has been used in the treatment of a variety of conditions, such as insomnia, depression and anxiety. It’s the potassium in bananas that make them such a good snack for those feeling stressed or tired. It’s important in the transmission of nerve impulses, heart rhythm and muscle function.


Lentils are a complex carbohydrate, so like bananas; they have the added benefit of helping to increase the brains production of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. This results in a calmer, happier state of mind with less anxiety.
Stabilising your blood sugar level is important to maintain a stable mood. They are also high in folate – deficiencies in folate have been linked to depression and mania. Lentils can also boost your iron levels – which will give you energy and therefore put you in a better mood.

Chicken and turkey

Eat chicken and turkey breast to increase your intake of the amino acid tryptophan. The body uses tryptophan to make serotonin – one of the most important neurotransmitters affecting mood, as well as to make the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate sleep.
They also contain another amino acid tyrosine, which can help reduce symptoms of depression as well as help avoid feeling the blues in the first place. Tyrosine is used to make the hormone adrenaline – low levels of which have been associated with depression.


Certain deficiencies in B vitamins have been linked to depression – serotonin production can actually be hindered by low B vitamin levels. Important B vitamins to look out for include folate, vitamins B3, B6 and B12. Eating leafy green vegetables – such as spinach or broccoli, for example – will help keep your levels up.


Vitamin D deficiency is linked to many health problems – such as depression, osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer.
The best source of vitamin D is sunlight (the action of sunlight on the skin allows our bodies to manufacture vitamin D), but if you aren’t getting enough sun, try to include foods that include vitamin D in your diet. Calcium can also help reduce your levels of stress and anxiety.

Dark chocolate

The good news is chocolate isn’t only a delicious treat, but it can also give your mood a lift as well.
The darker the chocolate you eat, the better. A small square of dark chocolate can cause the brain to release endorphins and boost serotonin levels.
In a recent study, 30 people were given 40g of dark chocolate, over 14 days. The results showed that chocolate eaters produced less stress hormones and their anxiety levels decreased.


You either love them or loathe them – but oysters have many health benefits. They are high in many essential nutrients like zinc. Zinc has an array of important functions, including being essential for energy production and brain health. Zinc has been found to be deficient in depression sufferers and, as such, you may want to consider boosting food sources containing zinc.
Oysters also contain a protein that’s rich in an amino acid called tyrosine. Your brain uses this amino acid to produce chemicals, which may have the ability to help enhance your mental function and elevate your mood.