How the foods we eat (don’t eat) can alter our mood

The blood-sugar connection

A simple way to make a connection between food and mood is to look at our blood sugar levels. If your blood sugar drops you might feel tired, anxious, nervous irritable and depressed. Continuing low levels can lead to; sleepiness, confusion and sweating.

Fluctuating blood sugar levels also tend to create a cycle of eating the wrong foods, therefore fluctuating blood sugar will lead to fluctuating moods.

There are more serious health concerns with this type of eating as over eating in this cycle can often be the start of metabolic disorders.

It is healthiest for the mind and body to have stable blood sugar levels.

Foods that give sustained energy release are slow-release carbohydrates and foods that cause a short energy spike are ‘quick’ release carbohydrates. The body produces insulin each time any type of carbohydrate is eaten hence why the cycle is so damaging.

Feel-good foods
Of course we are all familiar with comfort eating, but what is it and where does it stem from?

  • Neural pathways linking food to reward or comfort
  • Nutrient deficiencies (selenium, folate, B vits and some amino acids)
  • Seeking serotonin when tryptophan is lacking in the body

Does comfort eating really comfort?
No. Comfort eating tends to fuel the blood sugar cycle.
The real comfort food does not come in the form of chocolate and cake but in rather less interesting amino acids!

Tyrosine – the body uses this amino acid to produce norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that facilitates alertness, concentration and motivation.

Foods rich in Tyrosine; bananas, avocados, soya, eggs, cheese, spirulina, fish, and pumpkin seeds.

When tyrosine levels in the brain and blood are high, neurons also manufacture the neurotransmitter dopamine, which gives you a mental boost by promoting alertness and activity.

Choline – this amino acid is the building block for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is essential for thought and memory and for concentrating and maintaining focus.

Foods rich in Choline; eggs (especially the yolk), wheat germ, whole wheat, soyabeans.

It is worth noting that in order for the body to be able to synthesize norepinephrine and serotonin you need to eat enough Folate (Folic Acid).

Foods rich in Folate; spinach, peas, fortified cereals and flour.

Selenium – a mineral involved in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, and protection from oxidative damage and infection

Foods rich in selenium; Brazil nuts, oysters, clams, liver and kidney – these are all exceptionally high in selenium (one serving likely to contain almost triple an RDA)
Tuna, sardines, shrimp, salmon, cod, mushrooms, asparagus mustard seeds, turkey, chicken, lamb, beef, eggs, barley, scallops.

Chromium – an essential mineral because it helps insulin in the body function properly, which plays an important role in carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. Chromium works in the body to help regulate blood sugar. Without chromium working with insulin, blood sugar can damage our cells.

Foods containing chromium; Whole grains, Bread, Brown rice, Meat, Broccoli, Mushrooms, Green beans, Beef, Chicken breast, Cereals, Cheese, Eggs, Fish, Sea food, Corn, Potatoes, Diary products, and Fresh vegetables, herbs.

Consider the link of refined sugars (lacking in chromium yet encouraging insulin release). This is why I continue to stress the importance of whole-grains.

If you can try to alter your mood via eating the right foods you may limit the need to crave high carb based foods; we produce neurotransmitters, brain chemicals which influence mood and thoughts via the food we eat so a well-balanced diet will benefit both your brain and your mood.

Whilst these are the foods that we should be eating to naturally regulate our blood sugar levels and release the right balance of neurotransmitters what about the foods we eat which have an adverse effect on our mood?

Sugar is the biggest culprit in many modern-day diseases and disorders and the neurological link is no different;

Sugar supresses the hormone brain derived neuropathic factor (BDNF). Low levels of BDNF are linked to Alzheimers, accelerated ageing, depression and schizophrenia.

BDNF is a protein which influences brain function and the peripheral nervous system, in people with depression they already have lower levels of BDNF so are more at risk of the co-morbidities. Eating a diet rich in refined sugars and processed food will further reduce the levels of BDNF.

As we know sugar (added, refined sugars) are highly addictive and classified as a genuine addiction therefore the effect on mood and physical symptoms can be similar to any other addiction;

  • Mood swings, temper – especially when experiencing a craving
  • Poor sleep, confusion ,dizziness
  • Poor skin
  • Slurred speech (low blood sugar)
  • Shaking, sweating , irritability, thirst, low mood

A study of 3456 middle-aged civil servants, published in British Journal of Psychiatry found that those who had a diet which contained a lot of processed foods had a 58% increased risk for depression, whereas those whose diet could be described as containing more whole foods had a 26% reduced risk for depression.

The most obvious link between food and mood is the link between blood sugar. If our blood sugar fluctuates it makes sense that our mood will too. The term comfort eating does not instill comfort, quite the opposite. Comfort eating is usually linked to a feeling of low mood, stress or anxiety and food isn’t going to fix the problem. When you comfort eat you get an unnatural high of serotonin but this is short-lived and as your blood sugar drops so does your mood, usually to a lower/worse place than you were initially as with comfort eating often comes guilt.

Louise Mercieca – Founder of The Health Kick is very much focused on a sensible, holistic approach to fitness and nutrition – she says that weight loss is not just about what the scales say and healthy eating isn’t about counting calories.  At the Health Kick Louise offers exercise and nutrition plans to fit in with busy lifestyles and make feeling fit, strong and healthy a way of life not a temporary fix.

More details about Louise and her work can be found at:


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