Food & Mood - Extension

This extension features further information on the topic "Food & Mood".

(Click here if you want to return to the main article on Food & Mood.)


So, here are some easy codes of eating behaviour that could help you feel better:


Eat regularly

The science behind that tip is an easy one: when you haven’t eaten in a long time, your blood sugar level sinks and mood swings will most likely ensue. You have to see food as fuel for your body and especially for your brain, which uses at least 18 percent of your daily calorie consumption, respectively your basal metabolism, and it is even more if you do intensive intellectual or “brain” work. The breakfast is particularly important (especially for children) because a healthy breakfast, that is high in nutrients and fibre, will help you to perform better in school or at work and will also diminish the occurrence of food cravings during the day which could lead to weight problems if given in too often. However, some people are not that sensitive to low blood sugar levels and do not experience mood swings or bad mood at all, whilst others can get very grumpy if their blood sugar level drops. So the effect of irregular eating seems to be different from person to person.


Don’t ban carbohydrates from your diet

In recent times, some self-proclaimed nutrition experts preached the waiver of carbohydrates in the diet if you want to loose weight or live a healthy lifestyle. But there is no scientific proof to support that claim. It even may be counter-effective, if you believe recent studies. While some scientists do not believe in the mood-enhancing qualities of carbohydrates, there are also many of them, who take the opposite view. The theory behind the mood-boosting effects of carbohydrates lies in the increased uptake of the amino acid tryptophan into the brain, which promotes the synthesis of serotonin, a messenger substance that is said to contribute to happiness and emotional well-being. A study, conducted by the Arizona State University (USA) even found out that a very low carbohydrate diet may enhances fatigue and reduces the desire to exercise in overweight adults after two weeks into the diet. That correlates with the findings of other studies that reported a decrease in the emotional satisfaction of the participants after two weeks of a low-carbohydrate diet. But if you choose carbohydrates, make a smart choice and concentrate on complex carbohydrates, which are found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes (which furthermore add fibres and important nutrients), and not on simple carbohydrates such as sugars or sugary foods. Those complex carbohydrates will last longer, which means it takes longer getting hungry again, and you don’t experience a short spike of glucose in your blood stream, which could lead to mood swings.


Eat enough important nutrients

Several nutrients are known to have an impact on the mood if your body lacks of them. Here are some examples:

1.) Folic acid: Research has found low folic acid levels in many people diagnosed with depression. The folic acid deficiency obviously causes serotonin levels in the brain to decrease. A supplement of 200 micrograms/day was enough to relieve the depression in many of the participants with moderate depression. Additionally, antidepressant medications didn’t work as effective when folic acid levels were low in the participants. Good sources of folic acids are green vegetables, such as spinach, and beans.

Click here if you want to know more about folic acid:


2.) Iron: In several scientific studies, an iron deficiency has been associated with fatigue, inattention and depression. Foods that are rich in iron include red meat, liver, egg yolks, fruits, beans and artichokes.

Click here if you want to know more about iron:


3.) Selenium: Selenium supplements have been shown to improve mild and moderate depression in elderly participants of several studies. The hypothesis behind it implies that selenium acts in the body like an antioxidant, which reduces oxidative stress in the brain, thus decreasing the effects and symptoms of a mild depression. There are also studies that made a connection between low selenium intakes and the occurrence of bad moods. The recommended daily dosage for selenium is 55 micrograms per day [Link]. Excellent sources of selenium are, for example, whole grain products, lean meat, seafood, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products. Eating more than the recommended dosage / more than you need, will not give you any more benefits. Selenium does not elevate the mood further than normalize it. Furthermore, an excess intake (over 400 micrograms/day) can lead to selenosis, a disease with the following symptoms: fatigue, irritability, hair loss, gastrointestinal disorders, sloughing of nails, neurological damage and in extreme cases cirrhosis of the liver, pulmonary oedema and even death.

Click here if you want to know more about selenium:


4.) Vitamin B1 (thiamine): Vitamin B1 is an essential nutrient, meaning that humans (as well as animals) must obtain it from their diet, because they can’t synthesize it themselves. A deficiency in Vitamin B1 has among other things been linked to irritability, depression, fatigue, concentration disorder and poor mood. The recommended daily dosage of vitamin B1 is around 1.0 milligrams per day [Link]. Foods rich in thiamine are wheat sprouts, sunflower seeds, yeast and yeast extracts, soy beans and whole grains. Vitamin B1 is heat sensitive: it will be destroyed (up to 40%) if the food is cooked.

Click here if you want to know more about vitamin B1:


5.) Vitamin D: Vitamin D is not an essential nutrient since it can be synthesized in our body. All we need are short periods of sun exposure. But in winter with its typical short periods of sun shine and maybe in the case that you don’t have the time (around 10 minutes a day, with at least you face and hands uncovered) or the chance to do so, there are some foods that naturally contain vitamin D: fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), beef liver, cheese, butter and egg yolks. A vitamin D deficiency has been associated with a higher risk of mood disorders. In several countries in the world there are also fortified foods with vitamin D available, for example margarine (required by law in many countries, in order to prevent rickets).

Click here if you want to know more about vitamin D:


Try to eat foods that are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but that are not full of fat themselves and reduce foods that are high in saturated fats

Besides several other positive health effects of polyunsaturated fatty acids, they also offer benefits to your mood and mental health. Omega-3 fatty acids are the most popular of these polyunsaturated acids. They seem to have positive effects on clinically defined mood swings, e.g. postpartum depression, and lower the risk of depression. Foods with a high content of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, herring etc.), flaxseed and walnuts.

Some recent studies suspect that saturated fats play a role in the occurrence of depression by affecting neurotransmitter pathways in the brain. In particular, one study observed a decrease in depression in patients when the percentage of saturated fatty acids in the diet was decreased over a six-week period. And it also goes the other way around: eating foods that inhibit omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to make people feel worse. However, some other recent studies doubt that connection, i.a. saying that placebos would have the same effect in patients with a mild depression. 

Click here if you want to know more about polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids in particular:


Limit your alcohol intake

Although one or two drinks will lower your inhibitions and maybe give you a good feeling, alcohol is actually a powerful depressant, which will negatively influence your mood if consumed in abundance and regularly. Plus, it also has negative effects on the quality of your sleep, which could also contribute to a bad mood.


Don’t overdo caffeine

If you consume caffeine late in the day or shortly before your bedtime or if you are sensitive to caffeine, it could disrupt your night time sleeping and hinder deep sleeping since it is a stimulant [Link 1, Link 2, Link 3, Link 4]. A disrupted sleep will lead to fatigue and most likely contribute to a poor mood. But if you consume caffeine in moderation and at the right time, it actually acts as mild anti-depressant. However, if you’re not sensitive to caffeine at all, you probably won’t experience sleep disruptions.



And finally (as some kind of fun fact), we will discuss something that many parents think to observe: sugar makes kids hyperactive. You often hear, that sugar gets children all wound up when they had lots of candy and other kinds of sweets, which can be seen on Halloween or at birthday parties. While some nutrition experts say that the brain, respectively the body of children doesn’t possess the mechanisms to get rid of excess glucose (a monosaccharide / a small sugar molecule) in the brain, yet and therefore they have to get rid of the glucose by burning it through physical activity, other scientists claim, that it is rather a psychological phenomenon. According to the latter theory, the expectations and the behaviour of the parents are more likely the reason for the occurrence of this kind of hyperactivity after large portions of foods with high sugar content.


Click here to return to the main article on Food & Mood.



This text was prepared by Erik Voigt of the Department of Food Biotechnology and Food Process Engineering, Berlin Institute of Technology (Technische Universitaet Berlin), Berlin, Germany and of the European Federation of Food Science and Technology (EFFoST), Wageningen, The Netherlands.

For further questions please refer to: