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The Link Between Your Food and Mood
Food & Nutrition
The Link Between Your Food and Mood
Lindsey Toth, MS, RD • June 1, 2022

The Link Between Your Food and Your Mood

There are so many aspects of health that impact the way you feel on a daily basis. How much sleep you log each night and how much stress you experience at work are two major factors. But oftentimes, when it comes to your mood, one of the most important contributors is the food you put on your plate at each meal and the nutrition it provides.

Food & Mood: How it Works

There is a major connection between your brain and your digestive system. Your gut microbiome is home to a whopping 90% of your body’s serotonin receptors, and serotonin is a natural chemical known for contributing to feelings of wellbeing and happiness.1

So, when your gut is functioning optimally, your mood benefits. If your gut is feeling depleted or unbalanced, your serotonin levels will likely be low as well. The foods you eat directly impact how your microbiome works on a daily basis.

But that's not all: certain nutrients within the foods you eat can help lift your mood and keep stress at bay.

Before we dive into the list of foods that make for a happy gut and mood, it’s also important to address the timing of your meals because that factor contributes significantly to your overall mood and demeanor, too.

How frequently you eat directly impacts your blood sugar levels, and keeping your blood sugar levels as consistent as possible can contribute to a more positive mood. According to research, eating regular meals and snacks at the same times every day can help keep your blood sugar levels steady as you provide your body with a continuous source of fuel.2

The content and quality of those snacks and meals matter a great deal, though.

Good Mood Food

If you’re looking to stabilize your mood by paying attention to what’s in your kitchen, the following foods can be incredibly helpful:

  • Nutrient-rich protein sources like eggs, poultry, seafood and soy can help slow the rate at which your digestive system processes carbohydrates, preventing your blood sugar from spiking dramatically. Your gut also releases more dopamine, another feel-good hormone, as it breaks down protein.3
  • Probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut keep the good bacteria in your gut flourishing while minimizing the bacteria that don’t serve you.4 The result? A balanced, happy tummy that’s ready to keep those serotonin receptors firing.
  • Prebiotic (fiber-rich) options like oats, beans, apples, pears and Brussels sprouts provide the “food” for the good bacteria in your gut to feast on, keeping them alive and well so they can do their job to balance your microbiome.4
  • Foods rich in folate and vitamin B12 can also help to boost your mood. And since B12 is better absorbed by your body when it’s consumed alongside folate, certain food pairings are more impactful than others.5 Put a folate-rich food like broccoli, lentils, dark leafy greens or oranges on your plate next to a food full of B12 like cottage cheese, lean beef or salmon, and you’ll be in good shape.
  • Foods rich in vitamin D are known to help with your mood as well, especially when you’re not spending a significant amount of time in the sun.5 Low-fat milk, egg yolks and soy milk can be great additions to your diet in the vitamin D department.
  • Omega-3 fatty acid sources like salmon, tuna, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts can help you fight back against many of the health concerns stress can provoke. Omega-3 fatty acids may help boost your mood, reduce anxiousness and increase your ability to handle stress.6
  • Foods full of magnesium like dark chocolate, avocado, nuts, legumes and tofu can help you manage anxiety. When you become stressed, your body actually uses more magnesium than when you aren’t stressed, so in those times you may need even more.7

Foods That May Impact Mood

On the flip side, if you’re looking to avoid mood swings and drops in energy throughout the day, try to avoid the following foods when possible:

  • Refined white starches like white rice, white bread and crackers can lead to major spikes in blood sugar followed by big crashes, which zap your good mood.8 If you’re going to eat white rice, pair it with a lean protein source and healthy fat to prevent the pitfall, and opt for more complex, whole grain and multigrain breads instead of white varieties to help balance your blood sugar.
  • Simple sugars can also create dramatic ebbs and flows in your blood sugar levels.6 While they are present in junk foods like candy and soda, they also exist in everyday foods like fruit juice and jams, so be mindful to pair these options with a healthy fat or protein to balance how quickly your body digests the meal. Look for healthier sugar alternatives instead.
  • Alcohol is a depressant, so if you’re trying to eat and drink for a better mood, keep your cocktail consumption low.9 Alcohol is also a major sleep disruptor, which will further impact your mood—and not in a good way—if you overdo it and consume it close to bedtime.
  • Ultra-processed foods that contain chemical additives can destroy the good bacteria in your gut, creating an imbalance that ultimately impacts your mood in a negative way.10 So steer clear of these options and swap in whole foods instead.

Lindsey Bristol, Swanson Health Products



About Lindsey Toth, MS, RD
Registered Dietitian, Swanson Health Products

Lindsey is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian and nutritionist with a soft spot for pie. She empowers people to take charge of their health by finding the balance between the pleasure and nourishment in food.

Her philosophy is that you should take care of your body because it’s the only permanent home you have. It’s what inspired her to pursue a career in nutrition and, ultimately, led her to Swanson Health.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Sources

1. How food affects your mood. Harvard Health Publishing. Read source

2. Foods That Lift Your Mood. Healthline. Read source

3. 10 Best Foods to Eat in the Morning. U.S. News & World Report. Read source

4. The Microbiome Diet: Can It Restore Your Gut Health? Healthline. Read source

5. Foods to Help You Feel Better. WebMD. Read source

6. Anxiety and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Psychology Today. Read source

7. Magnesium and the Brain. Psychology Today. Read source

8. Stabilize Your Mood with Food. Psychology Today. Read source

9. Alcohol and mental health. Mental Health Foundation. Read source

10. The Different Types of Carbohydrates. Verywell. Read source

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