Food and Mood


There is a connection between food and mood. The joy of eating is no doubt rooted in our DNA since food is necessary for survival. So, eating when we’re hungry engenders a deep pleasure no doubt shared by all members of the animal kingdom. To be as happy as possible, we must also eat a healthy enough diet to avoid weakness or illness caused by nutritional deficits. Good health contributes strongly to a sense of well-being, and maintaining a healthy body weight is part of that. Yet, even within the context of a healthy diet, different foods can affect our mood differently. The following information, published in an article in the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter (January 2010) provides evidence for the connection between food and mood.

Foods That Can Boost Your Mood

A study conducted in Spain of over 10,000 people used food questionnaires to measure frequency of consuming the following:

  • Monounsaturated fats (as in olive oil)
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy products
  • Meat
  • Legumes (e.g. peas, beans, soy, lentils, peanuts)
  • Fruits and nuts
  • Cereals
  • Vegetables
  • Fish

The study showed a statistically significant link between food and mood. Those people who most closely followed the Mediterranean dietary pattern of high monounsaturated to saturated fat ratio, high consumption of legumes, fruits and nuts, cereals, vegetables, and fish, moderate consumption of alcohol and dairy, and low consumption of meat were 42-58% less likely to become depressed than those who adhered least to this dietary pattern. The relationship held even when other lifestyle factors were controlled for. The foods most closely tied to a lower incidence of depression were fruits, nuts, legumes, and monounsaturated fats. Meat and dairy products produced the highest depression risk. It is thought that the Mediterranean Diet promotes the neurotransmitter serotonin (common antidepressant drugs block uptake of serotonin so that more of it remains at the nerve connections).

A study of over one thousand elderly Japanese examined the relationship of green tea consumption to depression. After adjusting for other factors, it was found that those subjects who drank at least 4 cups of green tea per day had 44% fewer symptoms of mild to severe depression than those who drank no more than one cup per day.

A study of 106 overweight and obese subjects was conducted in which half went on a low carbohydrate, high fat diet, while the other half went on a high carbohydrate low fat diet. Both groups lost about 30 lb within a year. However, while the mood of those in both groups improved with their initial weight loss, only those in the high carbohydrate group maintained their mood improvement over the year. So carbohydrates may really be “comfort food“. Whole grain carbohydrates are preferred because they are less likely than refined carbohydrates to cause swings in blood sugar level. Yet some protein and healthy fats are also essential.

Other dietary factors that may help keep mood up include eating a healthy breakfast to maintain blood sugar level, limiting alcohol, which can act as a depressant, and eating foods rich in folic acid, needed to make serotonin. Such foods include green leafy vegetables, orange and tomato juice, fruits, legumes, mushrooms, okra, asparagus, and some fortified grain products.

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