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How Food Affects Your Mood

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There are multiple reasons to love food! Food brings people together, it’s fun to make, it allows you to explore new cultures, shows people you care and last but not least, it tastes good! But, did you know food could be affecting your mood? Many studies have linked depression to inflammation and a chemical imbalance of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. 

The Science Behind Mood and Food

You’re probably wondering, “how does the stomach affect my brain?” More than 95 percent of all our serotonin (a natural mood stabilizer) is produced and stored in the gut lining, therefore our gut microbiota influences our brain chemistry! 

Many people suffering from depression have elevated levels of monoamine oxidase (MOA), an enzyme that breaks down serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Inflammation, which can be caused by stress and certain foods, increases MOA levels, and high MOA levels lead to low levels of neurotransmitters, causing depression. 

Inflammatory Foods

Foods associated with inflammation in the body include:

• Red meat

• Fried foods

• Processed meats such as bacon and hot dogs

• Carbohydrates with added sugar such as:

           o Candy

           o Packaged cookies

           o Snack cakes

           o Toaster pastries

• Soft drinks

• Fast food

Many of these foods contain a fat called arachidonic acid. High amounts of arachidonic acid will set off a cascade of chemical reactions in the body leading to inflammation.

A 2010 study examined the associations between mood state and polyunsaturated fatty acid intake between vegetarian diet and omnivorous diet. Vegetarians reported significantly less negative emotion than their counterparts. The vegetarians in the study followed a plant-based diet rich in antioxidants such as spinach, asparagus and fruits such as orange and berries. 

Tips to Improve Mood Through Food

Thankfully, there are ways to combat inflammation and depression. To improve your mood through food:

  • Eat plenty of tryptophan rich foods which create serotonin, such as:

                 o Fish

                o Poultry

                o Eggs

                o Sunflower seeds

                o Watercress

                o Soybeans

                o Pumpkin seeds

                o Mushrooms

                o Broccoli

  • Include magnesium-rich foods, which support sleep. Our bodies register inadequate sleep as STRESS!

                o Almonds

                o Spinach

                o Pecans

                o Sesame seeds

  • Fill your plate with mood-supporting anti-inflammatory foods by eating a rainbow of whole fruits and vegetables. Turmeric also has anti-inflammatory properties.
  •  Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids which help fight off symptoms of depression. These anti-inflammatory fats are found in:

                o Fatty fish (salmon, halibut)

                o Flaxseeds

                o Chia seeds

                o Walnuts

  • Limit your added sugars. Choose no-sugar-added varieties of foods when possible. Substitute fruit for dessert in place of sugar-sweetened treats.

There are many contributing factors to depression in life, but eating a balanced diet helps to improve and maintain optimal mental and physical health.


To schedule a one-on-one consultation or learn more about Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Esosa Osagiede, MPH, Dietetic Intern at Oklahoma State University, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.