How Food Affects Your Mood

When you’ve had a long day, what is the first thing you tend to grab? No doubt a pint of ice cream or a cheeseburger with fries! That’s because we associate these sorts of food items with comfort. Unfortunately, the very foods we turn to when we’re sad, lonely, depressed, or stressed are the very foods that can prolong or worsen that mood.

“The foods we eat not only affect our mood, but our sleep patterns and our energy levels. And that can impact us throughout the entire day.”

Psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD

How Food Affects Your Mood

When we eat foods that are highly processed or full of sugar, it boosts dopamine in our body, making us feel good…temporarily. Eventually, we crash though, and that pick-me-up lets us down really hard, resulting in even more depression, anxiety, and moodiness. In this way, we become addicted to sugar, because we must continue consuming it in order to maintain that “sugar high.” The American Heart Association says it’s a vicious cycle:

“A cheat meal every now and then can be okay, but if you use food to battle the blues, you’re going to lose the war. Research shows that foods full of fat and sugar only increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety, and that means you’ll only want more sugary junk to fight the new bad mood. This cycle is a feedback loop.”

So, when we’re cranky or stressed, which foods should we avoid? Unfortunately, they’re the same ones we tend to gravitate towards. Cakes, cookies, donuts, ice cream, French fries, chips—these all boost our mood in the moment but are bound to result in a crash later and lead to long-term emotional and mental health problems.

The good news is healthy food can positively affect your mood too! In fact, there are certain foods that release dopamine in the brain the same way those sugar-filled ones do, but without the crash and addictive consequences. Who knew that changing your eating habits could have such a powerful impact on your mental health?

Foods That Boost Your Mood

So what are some mood-boosting foods we can keep stocked and on-hand to eat when our mood tanks? Here are some foods you can eat that can give your brain a healthy boost of dopamine.

Chocolate – Surprised by the first food on our list? Dark chocolate, in moderation, is actually incredibly good for you (three cheers for antioxidants!) and is a great alternative to, say, a pint of ice cream.

Fish – If you’re experiencing a season of depression or irritability, you might be low in Omega-3! Take a proactive approach by incorporating more fish into your diet. Fish is filled with Omega-3 fatty acids, which can keep those bad moods at bay.

Fruit – Have a banana, be happy! Seriously, make sure you always have fruit on hand so that when you’re feeling mopey, you can munch on an apple or orange instead of chowing down on a bag of chips. Your brain, heart, and body will thank you.

Vegetables – Unfortunately, veggies have this stigma attached to them. Doesn’t just the word “vegetables” put you in a bad mood? But maybe you can find a way to snack on them that you like. Remember, veggies don’t have to be a side dish to a meal. For example, baby tomatoes with ranch dressing or some guacamole with multigrain chips are two fun snack options where vegetables are the hero.

While eating these healthy alternatives can give your mood a boost, be sure to consult a mental health professional if depression and anxiety are the norm for you. In this case, a diet change may not be entirely effective, and you don’t want to delay getting the help you need.