Food and Mood

The food you eat can affect your mood

Healthy eating is known to reduce the chance of getting lots of physical illnesses, like cancer and heart disease, and it can also help improve your mental health – it can give your brain functioning a boost and give you more energy.

A survey by the Food and Mood project found that of 200 people who took part, 88% said that changing their diet significantly improved their mood or mental health.

Food to eat for a good mood

Here’s some tips on what to eat to feel better. Download our Food and Mood factsheet at the end of this page for more advice.

  • Cook from scratch rather than eating ready meals. This is better for you as you can control what is going in your meal. If you feel too depressed to cook, look for ready meals that don’t contain too much sugar or loads of E-numbers
  • Oil-rich fish such as mackerel and sardines or linseed (flax) contain Omega 3 which has been found to help brain functioning. Hemp seeds, avocado and fresh fruit such as bananas are good for the brain and for lifting mood
  • Eat plenty of protein. Protein contains a good source of the mood enhancing tryptophan, an essential amino acid which is converted into serotonin – a brain chemical which can be low in people affected by depression. Protein foods include meat, fish, beans, lentils, eggs and cheese
  • Oats, wholegrains and protein will fill you up and keep your blood sugar steady to improve irritability, poor concentration and fatigue
  • Coffee might be a good quick-fix when you are feeling sluggish, but too much can get you hooked and has been found to worsen anxiety, depression, insomnia, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Breakfast is the best way to start your day. If wakens up your brain and studies have shown that people who eat breakfast are better able to concentrate during the day.
  • Drink at least 2.5 litres of water and non-caffeinated drinks each day. Caffeine is a dehydrator, so these drinks don’t count, but herbal tea, fruit juice and milk are all good.

Processed food and sugar

Food like crisps, chocolate or sausage rolls taste good. They can give you an instant food high and satisfy your food craving, but eating too much of this sort of food to improve your mood can often end up making you feel worse in the long run. You’ll quite often feel a real drop in mood and energy once they wear off.

Too depressed to eat?

Maybe you’ve stopped eating. It is common for depression to affect your appetite so you don’t feel hungry but not eating enough can have an equally bad effect on your physical and mental health. It can become a vicious cycle where you don’t eat because you’re depressed, which makes you more depressed.

Even if you aren’t hungry or don’t have the energy to cook big meals, eating small amounts of healthy food, like a bowl of soup, will help steady your blood sugar levels and your mood. Consider taking supplements too so your body can get the vitamins and minerals it needs.

Be realistic

Introduce a few changes at a time. This will allow your body to adjust whilst also setting yourself realistic goals. Setting unreasonable targets that completely exclude things like chocolate and crisps will only leave you feeling disappointed when you are unable to meet them. Try to create a balance by allowing for the odd indulgence within your healthy eating plan.

Keep a food and mood diary

Write down what and when you eat and how you feel emotionally and physically. This will help you see if particular foods aren’t helpful for you or if you have an intolerance to something.

More about Food and Mood

Files: Food and mood factsheet